“It is time for justice,” said Judge Steven O’Neill, who handed down the sentence in September last year at the Montgomery county courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Cosby was found guilty earlier this year of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia estate in 2004. The sentence caps a precipitous downfall for an actor once known as “America’s Dad,” who starred in the popular Cosby Show in the 1980s and 90s.
Booking photo from the Montgomery County Correctional Facility shows comedian Bill Cosby after his sentencing on Tuesday Photograph: HO/AFP/Getty Images
The 81-year-old comedian was taken into custody immediately and led away in handcuffs after the judge refused to let him out on bail while he appeals, saying he “could quite possibly be a danger to the community”. Cosby will serve the sentence in state prison.
“Mr. Cosby, your guilt has been determined by a jury. You were convicted of a very serious crime,” O’Neill said, adding that Cosby’s notoriety did not affect his ruling.
“Of course, the higher the ascent the sharper the fall. I recognise that impact upon Mr Cosby, and I am sorry for that.”
Cosby declined the opportunity to speak before being sentenced. He showed little visible reaction as the sentence was handed down, but was later reported to be sat smiling, laughing and chatting with his defence team. His wife of 54 years, Camille, was not in court.
Constand smiled broadly as she heard the sentence and was hugged by others in the courtroom. The judge said Constand’s “powerful” victim statement, released by prosecutors on Tuesday, had carried great weight in his decision that nothing short of a significant stint in state prison would be appropriate. “As she said, Mr. Cosby, you took her beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed her,” he said.
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In the pouring rain outside the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Gloria Allred, attorney for several of Cosby’s accusers said: “This has been a long journey to justice for all of the accusers … we’re glad that judgment day has finally come. Mr Cosby has shown no remorse.”
“I have waited 32 years for this day, hoping my nightmares would go away. I prayed every day that Mr. Cosby would go to prison,” said Chelan Lasha, who testified at the trial.
Andrea Constand, left, reacts at a news conference with prosecutor Kristen Feden after Bill Cosby was sentenced for sexually assaulting her. Photograph: Matt Slocum/AP
Lise-Lotte Lublin, who also testified, said: “I’m more emotional than I thought I would be … There’s justice at the end – and hallelujah.”
The sentencing came at the end of a two-day hearing at which the judge declared Cosby a “sexually violent predator”. The designation means he must undergo monthly counselling for the rest of his life and report to the authorities four times a year. His name will appear on a sex offender register sent to neighbours, schools and victims.
In a victim impact statement released earlier in the day, Constand described how she had been “at the top of her game” until Cosby’s assault derailed her life.
“Life as I knew it came to abrupt halt,” she said. “The man I had come to know as a mentor and friend drugged and sexually assaulted me. Instead of being able to run, jump and pretty much do anything I wanted physically, during the assault I was paralysed and completely helpless.” After the assault, she said, “the shame was overwhelming” and she retreated. “I felt completely alone, unable to trust anyone, including myself.”
Her job with the women’s basketball team at Temple University, Philadelphia, still required her to interact with Cosby, a trustee at the school. “The sound of his voice over the phone felt like a knife going through my guts,” she said.
Constand said her life remained in turmoil throughout a civil suit and two criminal trials, but she said that she took comfort in knowing Cosby had been brought down.
Cosby was convicted earlier this year of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, becoming the first celebrity convicted on criminal charges since the 2017 advent of the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment.
The case is the only one to result in criminal charges against Cosby, but more than 60 women have said he abused or harassed them, with many saying he drugged them and molested them while they were incapacitated. Five other women testified at Cosby’s trial that they had been assaulted. A hearing of the same charges last year ended in a mistrial with a hung jury.
Constand said the toll on her life has been heavy. “I’m a middle-aged woman who’s been stuck in a holding pattern for most of her adult life, unable to fully heal or to move forward,” she said.
Prosecutors had asked for five to 10 years in state prison, citing the seriousness of Cosby’s crime and his lack of remorse. Cosby’s lawyer asked for his sentence to be served as a continuation of his house arrest, saying he was not dangerous and was too old and frail to spend time behind bars.
Constand, who considered Cosby a friend and mentor at the time of the assault, testified that he gave her three blue pills which caused her to pass out. She awoke to find him penetrating her with his fingers, touching her breasts and placing her hand on his genitals.
Cosby denied wrongdoing, and said his relationship with Constand was consensual and the pills he offered her were simply the over-the-counter cold medication Benadryl. Cosby intends to appeal against the verdict.
Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, was defiant after the sentencing. He said outside court: “Mr Cosby’s doing great, and Mr Cosby knows that God is watching over him. He knows that these are lies. They persecuted Jesus and look what happened. I’m not saying Mr Cosby is Jesus, but we know what this country has done to black men for centuries.”