Bill Cosby's Day of Reckoning: Judge Sends ‘Sexually Violent Predator' to Prison

Judge Steven O'Neill sentenced Bill Cosby in a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, courthouse Tuesday afternoon

What to Know

  • Judge Steven T. O'Neill sentenced Bill Cosby to 3 to 10 years in state prison and denied bail.
  • Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing included the judge ruling the comedian is a "sexually violent predator."
  • Cosby's victim, Andrea Constand, says in a victim impact letter the assault robbed her of her self-confidence and affects her to this day.

Bill Cosby, once heralded as America's Dad, left a Pennsylvania courthouse in handcuffs after being sentenced to three to 10 years for a 2004 sex assault in the Philadelphia suburbs. 

Heavy rain fell outside as the sentence came down inside.

"Today, justice was served. It's been a long wait," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said. 

"Bill Cosby has been unmasked," he added.

The courtroom went silent when the sentence was read. With his Hollywood career and good-guy image in ruins, the 81-year-old comedian did not make a statement. Instead, Cosby sat back in his chair, his head on the headrest, as the sentence was handed down.

"It is time for justice. Mr. Cosby. This has all circled back to you. The time has come," Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill said.

Cosby's legal team fought for house arrest but O'Neill said he had "no right" to bail after committing "a very serious crime." Cosby was sent to prison immediately.

Dennis McAndrews, a veteran prosecutor who served in Philadelphia and Delaware County, says the public may be surprised to see an octarian sentenced to prison time, but that it was important for the community see that fame and age will not supercede justice.

"Just because you're prominent doesn't mean that you're going to get a pass," Dennis McAndrews, former Philadelphia prosecutor, told NBC10. "The wheels of justice are going to turn for you, too."

Outside the court room, Cosby could be seen emptying his pockets and removing his tie before being taken to a Montgomery County processing facility.

He spent a few hours at the county jail Tuesday before heading to SCI Phoenix, a 3,830-bed facility on the property of SCI Graterford in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, that opened two months ago. Corrections officials at Phoenix will assess Cosby's needs to determine where he'll serve the bulk of his state prison sentence.

Steele says Cosby could wind up at SCI Laurel Highlands, a prison for lower-risk inmates on the other side of the state, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Pittsburgh.

SCI Laurel Highlands serves inmates with special needs and has separate housing units for its geriatric inmates. The 81-year-old is legally blind.

Besides prison time, Cosby must also pay a $25,000 fine and the cost of both trials, the Montgomery County District Attorney's office said. County officials estimated the legal proceedings topped $400,000 over three years.

Speaking to the victim, Andrea Constand, O'Neill said, "I don't know if the defendant read your statement. I did - heard your words loud and clear.”

Cosby is the first celebrity of the #MeToo era to be sent to prison.

The punishment came at the end of a two-day hearing at which the judge declared Cosby a "sexually violent predator" — a modern-day scarlet letter that subjects him to monthly counseling for the rest of his life and requires that neighbors and schools be notified of his whereabouts.

Moments after being sentenced to three to 10 years in a Pennsylvania state prison, actor and comedian Bill Cosby was led out of a Montgomery County courtroom in handcuffs. <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Read and watch the latest coverage by tapping here</a>.

The comic once known as America's Dad for his role on the top-rated "Cosby Show" in the 1980s was convicted in April of violating Constand, Temple University women's basketball administrator, at his suburban Philadelphia estate in 2004. It was the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.

Cosby faced a sentence of anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison. His lawyers asked for house arrest, saying Cosby — who is legally blind — is too old and vulnerable to do time in prison. Prosecutors asked for five to 10 years behind bars, saying he could still pose a threat to women.

Steele rejected the notion that Cosby's age and infirmity entitle him to mercy.

"He was good at hiding this for a long time. Good at suppressing this for a long time. So it's taken a long time to get there," Steele said.

Defense attorney and NBC10 legal analyst Enrique Latoison recounts Judge Steven O’Neill’s comments when sentencing Bill Cosby and offers analysis into the judge’s focus when handing down the jail time.

The sentencing came as another extraordinary #MeToo drama unfolded on Capitol Hill, where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of sexual misconduct more than three decades ago.

The Cosby case "really raised awareness of the pervasiveness of ... sexual misconduct against subordinates and against women of relatively less power," said Daniel Filler, dean of Drexel University's law school. "For jurors, I think it's inherently changed the credibility of the accusers."

In the years since Constand first went to authorities in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims have led to criminal charges.

The judge ruled on Cosby's "sexually violent predator" status after a psychologist for the state testified that the entertainer appears to have a mental disorder that gives him an uncontrollable urge to have sex with women without their consent. When the ruling came down, a woman in the courtroom shot her fist into the air and whispered, "Yessss!"


Bill Cosby booking photo. See full sized image here.

In a statement submitted to the court and released Tuesday, Constand, now 45, that she has had to cope with years of anxiety and self-doubt. She said she now lives alone with her two dogs and has trouble trusting people.

"When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities," she wrote in her five-page statement. "Now, almost 15 years later, I'm a middle-aged woman who's been stuck in a holding pattern for most of her adult life, unable to heal fully or to move forward."

She also wrote of Cosby: "We may never know the full extent of his double life as a sexual predator, but his decades-long reign of terror as a serial rapist is over."

The AP and NBC does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Constand and other accusers have done.

Constand went to police a year after waking up in a fog at Cosby's gated estate, her clothes askew, only to have the district attorney pass on the case.

Another district attorney reopened the file a decade later and charged the TV star after stand-up comic Hannibal Buress' riff about Cosby being a rapist prompted more accusers to come forward and after a federal judge, acting on a request from The Associated Press, unsealed some of Cosby's startling, decade-old testimony in Constand's related civil suit.

In his testimony, Cosby described sexual encounters with a string of actresses, models and other young women and talked about obtaining quaaludes to give to those he wanted to sleep with.

Cosby's first trial in 2017 ended with a hung jury. He was convicted at a retrial that opened months after the #MeToo movement had taken down such figures as Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, NBC's Matt Lauer, actor Kevin Spacey and Sen. Al Franken.

Constand said Cosby gave her what she thought were herbal pills to ease stress, then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized on a couch. Cosby claimed the encounter was consensual, and his lawyers branded her a "con artist" who framed the comedian to get a big payday — a $3.4 million settlement she received over a decade ago.

Five other accusers took the stand at the trial as part of an effort by prosecutors to portray him as a predator.

Cosby, whose estimated fortune once topped $400 million, broke barriers in the 1960s as the first black actor to star in a network show, "I Spy." He went on to superstardom as wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable on "The Cosby Show," a sitcom that showed America a new kind of black TV family: a warm and loving household led by two professionals, one a lawyer, the other a doctor.

He also found success with his Saturday morning cartoon "Fat Albert," appeared in commercials for Jello-O pudding and became a public moralist, lecturing the black community about young people stealing things and wearing baggy pants. He won a Presidential Medal of Freedom and countless Emmys, Golden Globes and Grammy awards.

As the allegations mounted, his career all but collapsed, "Cosby Show" reruns were taken off the air, and one college after another stripped him of his honorary degrees.

Cosby's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame will remain in tact, however, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said after Tuesday's sentencing. 

Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer contributed to this report.

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