At Cosby sentencing hearing, Constand family says he ruined lives

Bill Cosby arrives for his sentencing hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Bill Cosby arrives for his sentencing hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

When it came time to address the court at Bill Cosby’s sentencing, main accuser Andrea Constand sat in the witness stand, a place she’s been twice before, and spoke for less than a minute.

“Your honor, I have testified. I have given you my victim impact statement,” she told Judge Steven O’Neill during Monday’s sentencing hearing. “The jury heard me. Mr. Cosby heard me, and all I’m asking for is justice as the court sees fit.”

If the court listens to the prosecution, 81-year-old Cosby will receive the maximum possible punishment under the law of 10 years in state prison.

Cosby, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said, “has shown no acceptance of responsibility for his actions. No remorse,” Steele told the court. “He doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong.”

But Cosby’s defense lawyer Joseph Green pushed back, saying Cosby’s age, disability, and blindness makes the prospect of re-offending remote. And so, Green asked the judge to hand Cosby a sentence of house arrest.

Green suggested that “the court of public opinion” has been tantamount to Cosby being stoned by villagers. “Everyone was encouraged to pick up a stone … That’s why we have the rule of law,” Green said.

O’Neill said Cosby’s three aggravated indecent assault convictions would merge into one for sentencing, meaning a decade of incarceration is the statutory maximum.

Earlier in the hearing, a fuller picture of the toll exacted by Cosby’s 2004 sexual assault of Constand became clear, as her parents and older sister told the court about years of court battles and coming to terms with a “nightmare.”

All described a sunny personality overshadowed by a traumatic event.

“She seemed depressed, vulnerable, slow to react to questions, and had become detached from our family unit,” said her father, Andrew Constand.

Tearfully, Gianna Constand, Andrea’s mother, described slow alienation from friends and family as a result of repeated media scrutiny, and attacks by Cosby’s publicists and lawyers, both in the court and outside of it.

“He basically protected himself at the cost of ruining many lives,” she said.

Cosby’s sentencing hearing began Monday afternoon, after O’Neill heard testimony about whether Cosby should be labeled a sexually violent predator under Pennsylvania law. That question remains open because the defense was unprepared to call its expert witness to the stand.

The defense offered letters in support for Mr. Cosby, yet did not call a single witness during the hearing.

It is possible that Cosby himself will address the court on Tuesday, his lawyer said.

Green, during his argument, raised something the DA has worked to avoid during the long Cosby episode: that as a candidate for district attorney, Steele campaigned on bringing Cosby to justice. That violated rules of professional conduct, Green said, condemning the judgements against Cosby as “mob rule.” He also indicated that there were “substantial legal questions” that leave room for an appeal.

Green drew upon Cosby’s precipitous career trajectory, from public housing to a barrier-busting career as a black comedian, to ask for leniency during his twilight years. The 81-year-old entertainer should receive a non-incarceration penalty due to four mitigating factors, according to Green: his advanced age, his blindness, his lack of prior convictions, and the fact that Cosby paid a $3.4 million civil settlement to Constand.

“Eighty-one-year-old blind men who are not self-sufficient are not dangerous, except maybe to themselves,” said Green.

Steele argued Cosby should serve a maximum sentence of five to ten years in state prison and pay a $25,000 fine, as well as cover the costs of the prosecution and trial, which county officials say is around half-a-million dollars, a price tag that encompasses the cost of two lengthy trials.

That sentence hinges not only on the hardship borne by Constand and her family, said Steele, but also Cosby’s failure to show remorse.

To the suggestion that Cosby is no longer a danger in his advanced age, Steele reminded the court of how the world-famous comedian attacked Constand at his Cheltenham mansion.

“He’s too old to drug someone and stick his hand in her? He’s too old to do that? No,” said an impassioned Steele, raising his voice. “Given the opportunity, I have no doubt he’d do it again.”

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