Wednesday 21 November 2018

Options for judge who will sentence Bill Cosby for sexual assault

The comedian and actor was convicted of drugging and molesting a woman in a landmark moment for the #MeToo movement.

Bill Cosby, centre, will be sentenced in the first major trial of the #MeToo era (Matt Slocum/AP)
Bill Cosby, centre, will be sentenced in the first major trial of the #MeToo era (Matt Slocum/AP)

By Maryclaire Dale

Bill Cosby could be sent to prison next week for drugging and molesting a woman at his suburban Philadelphia home in 2004 in what became the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.

Cosby is due in court on Monday for a two-day sentencing hearing that follows his conviction in the spring on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault.

The judge’s options are broad, because the state guideline range of about one to four years spans the gamut from a prison term to a jail stint to house arrest or probation.

The maximum term is 10 years per count.

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Prison is one option for Bill Cosby (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Lawyers for the 81-year-old, legally blind Cosby will no doubt stress his age, health problems, legacy and philanthropy as they plead to keep him at home, while prosecutors hope to call other accusers to paint Cosby as a sexual predator deserving of prison.

Judge Steven T. O’Neill may aim straight for the heart of the guidelines to blunt public criticism from both sides and avoid being overturned on appeal, legal experts said.

Cosby should learn his fate by Tuesday.

Sentence

Jurors convicted Cosby of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand without consent, while she was impaired and after incapacitating her.

Though each count carries a 10-year maximum sentence, Mr O’Neill will likely merge them since all three stem from the same encounter, in effect weighing only one charge, legal experts say.

State guidelines call for a base 22-to-36-month sentence.

The judge can add up to a year for aggravating factors, such as the 60-some other accusers, Cosby’s denials and lack of remorse, and even his defence team’s repeated attacks on the judge and prosecutor.

Then Mr O’Neill could deduct up to a year for mitigating factors, Cosby’s age, health and perhaps even the 3.4 million dollars he paid to settle Ms Constand’s related lawsuit.

Ms Constand has waived anonymity.

Prison, or house arrest?

If Cosby gets even a day more than two years, he will enter the state prison system, with a first stop at SCI Phoenix, a new 400 million dollar, 3,830-bed prison in suburban Philadelphia where staff would assess his physical, medical and security needs.

Cosby could end up in a long-term medical care unit there or elsewhere.

If he is deemed at risk because of his age or celebrity, or a risk to others, he would be held in solitary confinement, spending most of the day alone in his cell.

Otherwise, he would likely share a two-person cell, leaving for meals, exercise, counselling and other activities.

He would be free to bring a personal tablet for music or games but would not have internet access, corrections spokeswoman Amy Worden said.

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Bill Cosby (Matt Rourke/AP)

If Cosby gets two years or less, he’d likely go to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in nearby Eagleville, a 2,080-bed site that also has a medical unit.

Or Mr O’Neill could give him less than a year and let him serve some or all of the time on home confinement, typically with an ankle monitor or probation.

The key question, if Cosby gets time, is whether Mr O’Neill lets him stay home while he appeals against his conviction.

The violent nature of the crime works against him, but Cosby’s age might work in his favour.

Accusers

More than 60 other women accuse Cosby of sexual misconduct during his 50-year show business career.

Mr O’Neill allowed five of them to give evidence at trial, while others came to watch the court proceedings.

District Attorney Kevin Steele wants some of them to speak at the sentencing.

However Mr O’Neill rules, he already knows their stories well after presiding at both trials and several intense pretrial hearings over their “prior bad act” evidence.

Judge

Mr O’Neill, who is married and has three adult sons, took the bench in 2002.

He has watched the Cosby team’s attacks on the court system intensify, and grow more personal, as the stakes grew.

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Bill Cosby, left, with his wife, Camille (Matt Slocum/AP)

When the first trial ended in a deadlock in June 2017, the defence attacked the judge and prosecutor from the courthouse steps.

In court in April, moments after his conviction, Cosby called Mr Steele an expletive and said he was “sick of him”.

Then, just this week, Camille Cosby filed a state ethics complaint against Mr O’Neill, invoking a long-ago romance to allege he had a bias in the case.

She has called him “arrogant”, “unethical” and “corrupt”.

Press Association

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