NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — Bill Cosby was sentenced Tuesday to 3–10 years in prison for raping Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. He will also be required to register as a sexual predator for life, becoming the first major celebrity of his stature to be sentenced for assault in the #MeToo era.
The 81-year-old comedian, who was sentenced as multiple accusers, in addition to Constand, looked on from the audience, will also have to pay fines and court costs.
“Equal justice under the law” means Cosby should not be sentenced differently based on “who he is or who he was,” Judge Steven O’Neill said.
He added, “No one is above the law and no one should be treated differently or disproportionately based on where they live or who they are,” or based on “wealth, celebrity, philanthropy.”
O’Neill later denied Cosby bail. He was surrounded by his team as he removed his tie and cufflinks in preparation for being taken into custody. As he did, one of his accusers, supermodel Janice Dickinson, laughed loudly from the audience.
Cosby never denied having sexual contact with Constand, but insisted it was consensual. His attorney, Joseph P. Green, had sought house arrest, saying Cosby is legally blind and cannot live unassisted.
“I don’t remember anyone ever sentencing a blind octogenarian to state prison,” Green said.
But Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele pushed for the maximum, pointing to what he said was Cosby’s lack of remorse, while also reminding the court of the comedian’s wealth and resources.
“He was good at hiding this for a long time, he was good at suppressing this, so it’s taken a long time to get there,” Steele said. “But in the considerations he asked for, I would ask the court to weigh what was done to Andrea Constand and her family.”
O’Neill apparently agreed, telling Cosby during his sentencing that “some might say you were old back then when you assaulted Andrea Constand.”
More than 60 women have accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them over the span of decades, but Constand’s allegation was the only criminal case to be brought, in large part because most of the accusations were too old to prosecute.
Cosby was convicted in April of drugging and raping Constand, whom his defense team tried to paint as a con artist who showed romantic interest in the comedian in order to concoct false assault allegations and secure a nearly $3.4 million civil settlement, at one point calling her a “pathological liar.” But prosecutors were able to call on five other accusers who testified that they too were drugged by Cosby. Four of them, including Dickinson, said they were also sexually assaulted.
Constand addressed the court only once for the sentencing hearing, telling the judge Monday that “all I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit.” But in her longer victim impact statement, she recalled how she went from a pro athlete with a promising career, to being unable to “eat, sleep, or socialize” after the assault.
“Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it,” Constand wrote. “He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others.”
Cosby, who will also have to attend sex offender counseling for the rest of his life and be subject to community notification if he’s ever released, never addressed the court, nor did his attorneys call character witnesses to speak on his behalf. But his legal team has reportedly already filed papers in an effort to keep him out of prison during an appeal.
“It’s been a long time for Andrea Constand and other victims who endured similar offenses by the defendant,” Steele told reporters. “For decades, the defendant has been able to hide his true self and hide his crimes using his fame and fortune. He’s hidden behind a character he created, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.”
Outside the courthouse, however, Cosby’s spokesperson, Andrew Wyatt, slammed what he called “the most racist and sexist trial in the history of the United States.”
As protesters used bullhorns in the background, Wyatt claimed that on appeal, Cosby’s team will prove prosecutors falsified evidence.
“Dr. Cosby has been one of the greatest civil rights leaders in the United States for over the last 50 years,” he said. “He has also been one of the greatest educators of men and boys over the last 50 years.”
When asked how Cosby was doing, Wyatt said he is “doing great.”
“Mr. Cosby knows God is watching over him and he knows these are lies,” he said. “They persecuted Jesus. Look what happened. Not saying Mr. Cosby is Jesus, but we know what this country has done to black men for centuries. So Mr. Cosby is doing fine. He’s holding up well and everybody who wants to say anything negative, you’re a joke as well.”
The sentencing Tuesday marks yet another chapter in the downfall of a comedian who built his reputation on being America’s Dad. It might never have happened had a judge not decided to unseal Cosby’s transcript for the deposition he gave in Constand’s civil case she brought against him in 2005, which was eventually settled.
In that testimony, he admitted to giving women quaaludes, a powerful sedative, as a prelude to sex. Dozens of accusers pointed to the transcript as vindication of their claims, and public pressure to file charges in Constand’s case, which was still within the statute of limitations, increased.
A wave of women soon started coming forward with their own stories of being drugged and assaulted by Cosby. One of them, Kathy McKee, who alleges Cosby raped her in a Detroit hotel room in 1974, told CNN after the sentence was handed down that she was glad he was getting prison time.
“I feel a great deal of sorrow for all the women that this has happened to and not just with Bill Cosby, but everywhere,” she said. “I’m just struggling to keep going every day. I’m happy the judge sentenced Bill Cosby accordingly, and I’m grateful to Andrea for standing strong.”
Another woman who alleges Cosby drugged and raped her, Lili Bernard, told CNN the sentencing was “a momentous decision in a #MeToo era.”
“I do have mixed emotions,” she added. “On the one hand, I feel absolutely elated that justice was served. On the other hand, I also feel disappointed because clearly the three-year minimum sentence does not adequately reflect the havoc this man, this rapist, has inflicted on so many women, including myself.”
At a news conference, other women who have alleged Cosby assaulted them also spoke out, saying the criminal justice system needs to be reformed to allow accusers to participate without being constrained by statutes of limitations.
Chelan Lasha, another survivor, said she has “waited 32 years for this day hoping my nightmare will go away.” “He did not care how old I was young and innocent, only 17 years old. Why should he receive mercy just because he’s 81?” https://t.co/zmccfyWuY5
The first criminal trial against Cosby ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. But his retrial occurred after the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct scandal broke and sparked the #MeToo movement. And more of his accusers were allowed to testify, bolstering Constand’s allegations.
In her victim impact statement, Constand said that whatever happens now, “his decades-long reign of terror as a serial rapist is over.”
Amy Worden, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, told BuzzFeed News that Cosby’s ultimate destination will be the state’s newest prison, State Correctional Institution Phoenix, which opened in July.
She added that it has not been decided whether Cosby will be housed in a private cell or with the general population.
“We have a lot of inmates that come in with a lot of needs,” she said.
Claudia Rosenbaum contributed reporting to this story.
Judge Steven O’Neill’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.