Renown television icon Bill Cosby was handcuffed and taken into custody Tuesday to begin a minimum three-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a woman at his Philadelphia mansion 14 years ago.
The 81-year-old, once beloved by millions as “America’s Dad,” is the first celebrity convicted and sentenced for a sex crime since the downfall of Harvey Weinstein ushered in the #MeToo movement and America’s reckoning with sexual harassment.
Found guilty on April 26 of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, a former university basketball administrator, Cosby was impassive when Judge Steven O’Neill handed down the sentence Tuesday in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
After the judge rejected a defense request to release Cosby on bail pending an appeal, he was slapped in handcuffs, and led out of the courtroom in his shirt and braces, his tie and blazer removed.
It makes him one of the famous Americans ever sent to prison in a country where fame, wealth and expensive lawyers have tended to help celebrities avoid the full arm of the law in the past.
His prison sentence means that Cosby can apply for parole after three years. His requests will be reviewed by a special committee and can be rejected up to a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars.
“You were convicted of a very serious crime,” O’Neill told Cosby. “No one is above the law.”
O’Neill also branded Cosby a “sexually violent predator,” a humiliating designation that will force him to register with police for the rest of his life and to submit to mandatory counseling.
Prosecutors had demanded five to 10 years, after the three counts of aggravated indecent assault were merged into one, saving him a theoretically maximum sentence of 30 years.
– ‘Justice served’ –
“It’s been a long time coming, but today, justice has been served,” chief prosecutor Kevin Steele told a news conference.
“Finally, Bill Cosby has been unmasked and we have seen the real man as he is headed off to prison.”
The actor was filmed being put in the back of a vehicle, to be taken first to Montgomery County Correctional Facility, before the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and then onto a state prison.
Around 60 women, many of them onetime aspiring actresses and models, have publicly branded Cosby as a calculating, serial predator who plied victims with sedatives and alcohol to bed them over four decades.
“I wanted 30 years but I’m very happy to know that Mr Cosby will do time in prison,” said Chelan Lasha, one of his accusers who testified at trial.
“That he is touchable like he touched us.”
Defense lawyers wanted Cosby confined to house arrest, as he has been since his conviction, arguing that he is too old and too frail — the actor says he is legally blind — to endure a correctional facility.
Cosby’s publicist remained defiant, accusing the district attorney of using “falsified evidence” and denying his boss the right to a fair trial.
– ‘Crushed my spirit’ –
“These injustices must be corrected immediately,” Wyatt told reporters.
“We know what this country has done to black men for centuries. So Mr Cosby is doing fine. He’s holding up well. And everybody who wants to say anything negative, you are a joke,” he said.
Once a towering figure in late 20th century American popular culture and the first black actor to grace primetime US television, he was a hero for decades, particularly among African Americans.
Across the television-watching world, he was revered for his signature role, affable obstetrician and father Cliff Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984-92. Yet even after being convicted, he expressed no public remorse.
He declined to testify in court or produce any witnesses to emphasize past years of philanthropic work as mitigating circumstances in his favor. His wife, Camille, did not attend the sentencing hearing.
The case involving Constand, a former Temple University employee turned massage therapist, was the only one out of dozens of allegations against him that was recent enough to be prosecuted.
“Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature and my trust in myself and others,” she wrote in a five-page impact statement.
“When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities.
“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.”