NORRISTOWN, Pa. (CN) – In an emotional start to the sentencing hearing Monday, a Pennsylvania judge heard pleas for justice from the parents and sister of the woman whom Bill Cosby was convicted five months ago of sexually assaulting.
The courtroom was silent this morning as Cosby entered, dressed in a black suit and holding with one hand a cane that never touched the ground and with the other the arm of his publicist, Andrew Wyatt.
As the 81-year-old took his place at the defense table, the seats behind him dedicated for family and supporters sat empty. Despite her absence from court, however, wife Camille Cosby reportedly is still in the entertainer’s corner. Just this past Friday, Camille released a statement about having hired former prosecutor Brian Berry to investigate the judge who presided over her husband’s prosecution. Camille previously filed a complaint about Judge Steven O’Neill with the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania.
While waiting for O’Neill to make his entrance this morning, Cosby appeared in good spirits, laughing and smiling with his legal team.
On the other side of the courtroom, 20 women who identify as survivors of Cosby’s decades of sexual abuse filled the back row. Ranging in age from their 40s to 80s, the women had not shared their stories at Cosby’s trial in the spring, but they sat in solidarity this morning, raising their hands in salute as Andrea Constand entered the courtroom from a side door.
Cosby was charged in late 2015 with sexually assaulting Constand just before the 12-year statute of limitations on her claims was set to expire.
Thirty-five years Cosby’s junior, and a lesbian, Constand met Cosby through her job at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.
She would go to police in 2005 to accuse Cosby of having drugged and assaulted her at his home in suburban Cheltenham a year earlier. After the district attorney in Montgomery County at the time opted not to file charges, however, Constand would stay silent about her allegations for over a decade as part of a civil settlement.
Cosby’s deposition testimony from that civil case meanwhile set the stage for his undoing. Unsealed in 2015 by a federal judge, the transcript includes Cosby admitting that he regularly gave quaaludes to women before having sex with them.
Earlier this year, a jury in Norristown convicted Cosby on three counts of indecent sexual assault. He faces up to 20 years in prison with the court electing to combine two of those of counts for the purposes of sentencing.
State law also requires Cosby to register as a sex offender, but the Sexual Offenders Assessment Board recommended in July that Cosby be classified as a sexually violent predator.
Scrutiny over this recommendation ate up the full morning of Cosby’s sentencing hearing on Monday. Before breaking for lunch, Judge O’Neill advised the defense to contact a doctor they want to use a witness, in hopes of “moving this along.”
O’Neill confirmed after lunch that he would lay out Cosby’s sentence on Tuesday.
Throughout today’s proceedings, defense attorneys urged the court to consider Cosby’s age, health and lack of criminal history as mitigating factors.
“He has no prior arrests or convictions,” attorney Joseph Green said. “An 81-year-old blind man is not dangerous, except perhaps, to himself.”
Green said that in the arena of public opinion, Cosby had already suffered a proverbial “stoning.”
Recounting Cosby’s biographical details, the lawyer spoke of his client’s humble upbringing in Philadelphia public housing, his military service as a Navy veteran.
In 1976, the same year Cosby and his wife gave birth to their fifth child, Cosby earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
The prosecution argued meanwhile that Cosby should face the fullest extent of the law for his systematic abuse of women.
With her curly locks clipped short, Constand herself had little to say when prosecutors called her to the stand to offer a recommendation.
“I am asking for justice as the court sees fit,” Constand said.
Her mother, Gianna Constand, spoke out length meanwhile about the incident she termed “a nightmare.”
“I do not think Bill Cosby has ever cared or considered the suffering he caused us,” she said, reading from a prepared statement.
Gianna explained that her daughter’s civil settlement with Cosby barred the family from talking about the incident, when Andrea so badly needed to talk to a therapist.
“He didn’t want us to speak about the details of this incident,” Gianna said. “And he held his power over me.”
Through tears, Gianna explained that she “lived in fear” and “worry about my daughter.” She attributed the stress of the situation to causing her ill health and onset of Parkinson’s disease.
Though she said Cosby’s conviction has “vindicated” her family, Gianna explained that “our vindication came with a lot of suffering.”
“The victims cannot be unraped,” she said.
Andrew Constand took the stand next, calling himself “the proudest man in the world to have Andrea as his daughter.”
He recounted Andrea being “distant” and “unlike herself” after Cosby assaulted her. He described his sadness and anger, and how he began taking Atavan to sleep. Today he takes “double the medication to cope with the past,” Andrew said.
With each statement, Cosby appeared unfazed, his head leaning on one hand.
The final witness was Andrea’s sister, Diana Parsons, who spoke of her sister’s eternal “zest for life” and concluded by calling her sister her “hero.”
Parsons described Andrea as “reclusive” and “distant” when she moved home after the assault. She also expressed anger about the extreme pressures her sister faced inside and outside the courtroom.”
Classification as a predator would requires more intense treatment for Cosby, including sex-offender counseling that would occur at least monthly in prison. The counseling would also continue if he is released, and police would have to post warning notices throughout his neighborhood.
Cosby has been free on $1 million bail since his April 26 conviction. Monitored by a GPS bracelet, Cosby has left his home only to visit with doctors or his lawyers, with permission from the court.
For decades, the entertainer burnished a wholesome image resulting from his eight-year role as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on NBC’s “The Cosby Show” as well as his family-friendly comedy standup.
That image shattered, however, after dozens of women came forward with accusations that, going back to the 1970s, Cosby had raped them after incapacitating them with drugs.
It was too late for most of these women to file charges, but the new district attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, was elected in 2015 on the promise of bringing Cosby to justice.
Constand said she had seen Cosby as a mentor and had gone to his home on the night she was attacked for career advice.
Against Cosby’s claim that he only gave Constand the allergy medicine Benadryl to “help take the edge off,” Constand testified that she quickly found herself immobilized on the couch as Cosby penetrated her with his fingers and put her hand on his penis.