American entertainer Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing opened Monday with a debate over whether the 81-year-old comedian should be branded a "sexually violent predator" — a scarlet letter that would make him subject to mandatory lifetime counselling and community notification of his whereabouts.
Cosby, who faces up to 30 years in prison for drugging and molesting a Temple University women's basketball administrator in 2004, fought the prosecution's effort to classify him as a predator under state law.
Kristen Dudley, a Pennsylvania state board psychologist, testified that Cosby has an uncontrollable urge to violate young women and would probably commit another offence if given the chance. Dudley added that Cosby's assault of Canadian Andrea Constand fits a long pattern of predatory behaviour by the former Cosby Show star.
Cosby often befriended women, then betrayed their trust by sedating them with drugs or alcohol and violating them for the "sole purpose of his sexual gratification," Dudley testified.
Trying to avoid the predator designation for their client, Cosby's lawyers argued that the state law itself is unconstitutional. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere have repeatedly rewritten their sex-offender reporting laws after courts found them vague and unfairly punitive.
Prosecutors told Judge Steven O'Neill the law is necessary for public safety, and the judge allowed the hearing on Cosby's status to proceed.
Cosby was the first celebrity to go to trial in the #MeToo era and could be the first to go to prison — perhaps for the rest of his days — after being convicted in April.
Cosby, looking grim, walked into the courthouse on the arm of his longtime spokesperson as protesters shouted at him. Constand arrived a short time later.
Judges can't help but be influenced a little by the "optics" of a case — that it, how it will look to the public, said Daniel Filler, dean of Drexel University's Kline School of Law.
In this instance, "the judge is going to get flak," he said. "The judge is going to get less flak if they see Bill Cosby walk out in cuffs."
At the end of the potentially two-day hearing, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill could sentence Cosby to as many as 30 years in prison or send him home on probation. The state guidelines for someone like Cosby, with no prior convictions, call for about one to four years behind bars.
"Obviously, the allegations are serious, and, except for his age and poor health, would normally warrant some jail time," said Samuel Stretton, a veteran defence lawyer not connected to the case.
Cosby is legally blind and uses a cane, something his lawyers are certain to point out along with his achievements and philanthropy.
Dozens of accusers
Originally from the Toronto area, Constand played basketball at the University of Arizona and in a pro league in Europe before taking on a coaching job at Temple University, Cosby's alma mater. She now works as a massage therapist in Toronto.
In the years since Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims has led to criminal charges.
In the years since Canadian Andrea Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims netted any criminal charges. (Dominick Reuter/Pool Photo via AP)
Two of those women, Lise-Lotte Lublin and Chelan Lasha, said Sunday at a Philadelphia news conference that they want prison for him and hope they get to make impact statements at the sentencing.
"I really think it's important that he spend some time behind bars," said Lublin. She said Cosby assaulted her when she was 23 in 1989. "At some point, he should acknowledge what he's done, and do the time for the crime."
Lublin and former model Janice Dickinson — another woman who has accused Cosby — were among those in the courtroom Monday.
Prosecutors had hoped to have some of the other women who have alleged they were Cosby's victims address the sentencing hearing to paint him as a serial sexual predator deserving of prison. But the district attorney's office told The Associated Press on Monday they would not be taking the stand.
It remained unclear whether Constand herself would speak at the sentencing.
On Monday morning, just a few hours before the sentencing hearing was to begin, Constand tweeted Ephesians 4:26, a Bible verse about letting go of anger: "Be wrathful, but do not sin; do not let the sun set while you are still angry; do not give the Devil an opportunity."
Cosby, who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, became the first black actor to star in a prime-time TV show, I Spy, in 1965. He remained a Hollywood A-lister for much of the next half-century, hitting his peak in the 1980s with The Cosby Show as the warm, wisecracking dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Lublin, Lasha and Constand have done.
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