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Sentencing Hearing For Bill Cosby Begins In Philadelphia


Bill Cosby's sentencing hearing has begun at a courthouse in a Philadelphia suburb. A sentence could be handed down as early as tomorrow. The 81-year-old comedian faces the possibility of lengthy prison time for drugging and molesting a woman 14 years ago. Today's proceedings opened with a debate over whether Cosby should be declared a sexually violent predator. More than 60 women have accused the famed entertainer of sexual misconduct. This one resulted in criminal charges.

Reporter Bobby Allyn of member station WHYY was at the hearing in Norristown, Pa. He joins us now. And, Bobby, first just tell us a little bit about what it was like in court today.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: You could feel the suspense in the courtroom. Cosby's main accuser, Andrea Constand - she took a seat in the front of the courtroom surrounded by her lawyers and her family. And then, you know, about a half dozen Cosby accusers all sat together in the back of the courtroom, sometimes audibly sobbing. For them and for Constand, this hearing's been a long time coming. Remember; the case is nearly three years old, and some of Cosby's alleged sexual assaults date back many decades. So the prospect of seeing Cosby finally punished created a palpable intensity in the courtroom.

CORNISH: Who actually gave testimony, and what did they have to say?

ALLYN: So Constand herself was the first to take the witness stand, and it's the third time she has sat there in that very seat and confronted Bill Cosby. This time she kept it pretty short. She spoke for I think less than a minute, and she said, quote, "all I am asking is for justice as the court sees fit." Then Constand's mother, father and sister all took the stand at different times and described how, you know, since Cosby attacked Constand, just how their lives have morphed into a nightmare. And the mother, you know, said that that's included sleepless nights, emotional pain, the media mobbing their house in Canada and many court battles, including this criminal case.

Earlier in the hearing, though, prosecutors called a psychologist to the stand who said Cosby is a, quote, "sexually violent predator," as you mentioned at the top, and that Cosby is likely to reoffend.

CORNISH: So the prosecution expert witnesses - they're calling him a predator, saying he's likely to reoffend. What did the defense say? Did we hear from Bill Cosby at all himself?

ALLYN: Cosby didn't speak at all. The defense said that there's a chance he's going to address the court tomorrow. The defense strategy was to underscore his age. Remember; he's 81. He's legally blind. He doesn't have a criminal record. He has a long history of philanthropy. They talked about how he was once in the Navy and his contributions to American culture. They're really trying to downplay the charges and really emphasize his age and his advanced age and just how he's frail right now and shouldn't go to prison.

CORNISH: Now, Judge Steven O'Neill has a range of options when it comes to sentencing, right? And I know that Bill Cosby has already spent - what? - five months under house arrest.

ALLYN: Yeah.

CORNISH: What are the indications about where the sentencing might go?

ALLYN: Like in most sentencings, it's - you know, it's hard to get inside the judge's mind. But what we did learn today is what the prosecution's pushing for, and that's the maximum possible punishment available under Pennsylvania law, 10 years in state prison. That's what they want for Cosby. Cosby's lawyers, though, say that he should just be put on house arrest where, as you said, he's been for five months.

CORNISH: What happens next? What's the timing here?

ALLYN: So the judge said he intends to hand down his punishment for Cosby tomorrow morning. And like I said, there's a chance that Cosby will himself take the stand and address for the first time these charges. We have not actually heard from Cosby. There's been two criminal trials, and we have never heard from him himself. So we might hear from him. And whatever happens, Cosby can appeal. But most legal experts watching the case say that's not likely to happen if he gets incarceration before he's taken away in handcuffs to a prison cell. But we will just have to see what Judge Steven O'Neill does.

CORNISH: That's Bobby Allyn from member station WHYY. Thank you for your reporting.

ALLYN: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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