81-year-old Bill Cosby was led away to prison in handcuffs Tuesday, sentenced to three to 10 years behind bars. Many of his accusers see the sentence as justice — a reckoning richly deserved and long overdue. And as he was hauled off, Cosby got an earful from one woman.
The comedian and TV star became the first celebrity of the #MeToo era to be sent to prison. He was found guilty in April of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his gated estate in 2004 after being barraged with similar accusations from more than 60 women over the past five decades.
Several of Cosby’s accusers were present in court, including former model Janice Dickinson, who looked at him in the eyes and said: “Who gets the last laugh, pal?”
“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. He quoted from victim Andrea Constand’s statement to the court, in which she said Cosby took her “beautiful, young spirit and crushed it.”
Constand smiled broadly on hearing the punishment and was hugged by others in the courtroom.
In a blistering statement, Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said the comic was subjected to the “most racist and sexist trial in the history of the United States.” Wyatt said all three of the psychologists who testified against Cosby were “white women who make money off of accusing black men of being sexual predators.”
Cosby’s lawyers asked that he be allowed to remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction, but the judge appeared incredulous over the request and ordered him locked up immediately, saying that “he could quite possibly be a danger to the community.”
The comedian — who is legally blind and uses a cane — removed his watch, tie and jacket and walked out in a white dress shirt and red suspenders, his hands cuffed in front of him. He appeared downcast, his eyes failing to meet the camera, in a mug shot released by authorities.
Cosby must serve the minimum of three years before becoming eligible for parole.
“For decades, the defendant has been able to hide his true self and hide his crimes using his fame and fortune. He’s hidden behind a character he created, Dr. Cliff Huxtable,” Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said at a news conference, referring to Cosby’s best-known role. But “now, finally, Bill Cosby has been unmasked, and we have seen the real man as he is headed off to prison.”
Another accuser in the courtroom, Lili Bernard, said: “There is solace, absolutely. It is his fame and his fortune and his phony philanthropy that has allowed him to get away with impunity. Maybe this will send a message to other powerful perpetrators that they will be caught and punished.”
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Cosby’s punishment, which also included a $25,000 fine, came at the end of a two-day hearing at which the judge declared him 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. A psychologist for the state testified that Cosby appears to have a mental disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to have sex with women without their consent.
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 mansion in 2004. It was the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
Constand testified that 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.
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Cosby faced anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison. His lawyers asked for house arrest, saying he is too old and vulnerable to go to prison. Prosecutors asked for five to 10 years behind bars, warning that he could still pose a threat to women.
Steele said Cosby could be sent to Laurel Highlands, a state prison for lower-risk inmates on the other side of the state, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It serves inmates with special needs and has separate housing units for geriatric prisoners and programs for sex offenders.
In a statement submitted to the court and released Tuesday, Constand, 45, said 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.”
Constand went to police a year after waking up in a fog at Cosby’s estate, her clothes askew, only to have the district attorney pass on the case. Another DA reopened the file a decade later and charged the TV star after stand-up comic Hannibal Buress’ riff about Cosby being a rapist prompted other women 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, 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.