Facing a jail term, Cosby likely to prolong legal fight

A jury has found Bill Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, but his legal journey is not over. Sentencing is likely in the next 90 days, and his attorney has already said there will be an appeal.

Defence attorney has already said he'll appeal, prosecutors may go for heavy sentence

Bill Cosby gestures as he leaves the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Penn., after being convicted on Thursday of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

A jury has found Bill Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, but his legal journey is not over — sentencing is likely in the next 90 days, and his attorney has already said there will be an appeal.

Cosby, 80, is free on $1 million US bail and under house arrest in his Pennsylvania home. The actor formerly known as "America's Dad" for his role on TV series The Cosby Show will lose his passport and be fitted with a GPS tracking device so he cannot flee.

After a two-week trial in a courtroom in Norristown, Penn., a jury found him guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand in 2004. Constand, a Canadian who then was women's basketball administrator at Temple University, had been unable to persuade prosecutors to lay charges in 2005 and pursued a civil case, winning a $3.4 million US settlement.

No sentencing date was set, but under Pennsylvania law, Cosby must be sentenced within 100 days. It's likely the hearing will be in 60 to 90 days.

He faces up to 10 years in jail on each charge, and if he is imprisoned, it's likely he will spend the rest of his life in jail. But his legal team will be seeking ways to postpone that day.

Prosecutors could ask for heavy sentence

The prosecution is likely to ask for a heavy sentence, probably at the high end of the maximum sentence, said Shan Wu, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who specialized in sex crimes.

"They will justify it with the argument that there is a pattern here. They can make that argument more strongly in sentencing in a way they couldn't at the trial," he told CBC News.

At sentencing, the defence will argue Cosby's lifetime of achievement should be taken into consideration, but also raise the issue of his age, Wu said.
District attorney Kevin Steele, centre, flanked by his team of prosecutors, speaks at a news conference after Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault. He did not say what sentence he would seek, saying he has 'assessments' to do. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

District attorney Kevin Steele, speaking in a news conference after the trial, refused to say what kind of sentence he'd call for.

"So you do the pre-sentence investigation, you look at what assessments have developed and you speak to victims — they have a voice in this," he said.

"So we've heard testimony in effect from five of the women at this point, so you know, I think that goes into consideration and we'll be assessing it."

Testimony of 5 accusers allowed

Steele was successful in getting the judge to hear from five women who alleged sexual assault by Cosby. He had asked for 19 women to testify.

But he refused to say whether he had been approached by other Cosby accusers, saying he could not comment on matters under investigation.

Montgomery County authorities had reopened the 2005 criminal case in 2015, wanting to move before the 12-year statute of limitations for aggravated sexual assault. Cosby was arrested Dec. 30, 2015 and pleaded not guilty.

It is the second trial on the same charges for Cosby, with a trial less than a year ago resulting in a hung jury. But at that trial, the other women were not permitted to speak.

Outside the courtroom, Cosby's lawyer Tom Mesereau, pledged to appeal the verdict.

"We are very disappointed by the verdict. We don't think Mr. Cosby's guilty of anything and the fight is not over," he said.

Resources to appeal verdict

The former actor has the resources to pursue appeals as far as courts will allow them, though an appeal hinges on whether there has been an error of law during the trial.

If Cosby is allowed to appeal, it's likely the judge's decision to allow other Cosby accusers to speak will be called into question.

"It was a risky move for the judge to allow that testimony," Wu said. "The defence can argue that nothing has changed from last time [the first trial]."

The defence also may raise the appropriateness of the first witness in the retrial, forensic psychiatrist Barbara Ziv, who prepped the jury about "rape myths" — widely believed misconceptions about how victims behave in a sexual assault, such as expecting women to immediately file police reports and to cut off contact with the men who attack them.

"That's also a little bit risky. The defence can argue that is generalized and not specific to this case."

Wu said he also believed the defence was looking for another witness to cast doubt on Constand's testimony, and could argue there was not sufficient time to bring in this witness.

Cosby could stay out of jail pending appeal if his lawyers are successful. The first avenue would be an appeals court but his legal team could go to a higher court in Pennsylvania, which could take years to hear the case.

Cosby's 'true colours'

District attorney Steele said Cosby showed his true colours when he went on an expletive-laced tirade after his conviction on sexual assault charges.

Steele had argued the actor was a flight risk, saying he had a plane.

Cosby, speaking about himself in the third person, said "He doesn't have a plane, you asshole."

That outburst showed that Cosby's good-guy persona was just an act, and "we got to see who he really was," Steele said.
Constand, left, embraces her attorney Dolores Troiani after Cosby was convicted. The district attorney hailed her courage through two criminal trials. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Steele hailed Constand for her courage in the face of attacks and character assassination during the two trials on the same charges.

"You know, she didn't have to start down this journey with us. She didn't have to come here for the first trial, she didn't have to come here for the second trial, but she did. And I think that means so much and I hope that others that have been victimized understand that and see that courage and see where it can get — because for all of us, it was just about doing justice."

Constand's decision to speak out brought forward an avalanche of accusations against Cosby, with more than 50 women telling stories of being drugged and assaulted as the #MeToo movement brought sexual assault by powerful men into the public sphere.

Wu said this kind of high-profile conviction could help overturn negative perceptions of the way the criminal justice system deals with sexual crimes.

"It's very encouraging for more sexual assault victims to come forward."


Susan Noakes

Former senior writer and editor

Susan Noakes was a senior writer and news editor with CBC News. She spent five years at newspapers in Hong Kong and has worked for the Toronto Star and Asian Wall Street Journal. At CBC, she has covered arts, science and business.