The 60 women who’ve accused comedy icon Bill Cosby of assaulting them all have received an invite to appear at his sentencing hearing on Sept. 24 and Sept. 25, NNPA Newswire has learned.
In a motion filed by Montgomery County, Pa., District Attorney Kevin Steele, the prosecutor said he plans to present “numerous witnesses who will testify that the defendant sexually abused them.”
Steele also asked Judge Steven O’Neill to consider crimes that Cosby was accused of but never charged with when sentencing him.
The motion raised the hackles of many in the legal community, with one courthouse source calling it “the sound and fury signifying the lynching of a legacy.”
“This is a completely unfair and highly prejudicial sentencing hearing,” said Connecticut lawyer Mark Sherman. “The only victim that should be permitted to speak is the [only] woman involved in this case. This may actually provide viable grounds for an appeal.”
Joshua Rogala, a lawyer from Winnipeg, Canada, agreed.
“It would be contrary to fundamental justice if the judge were to allow any of the 60 women to provide a victim’s impact statement at Cosby’s sentencing,” Rogala said. “None of those women’s allegations have been heard before a court.”
That these women have been invited presents a real concern and it’s also a fact that Black men are more likely to be prosecuted, and given severe sentences, than White men, even though rates of criminal activity are similar, said Chrysanthi Leon, an associate professor of sociology and criminal justice, women and gender and legal studies at the University of Delaware.
“This is unjust,” Leon said. “The sentencing hearing takes on a symbolic role, sending a message about our society’s intolerance for sexual violence. At a gut level, I would like to hear from survivors at sentencing, but I do share the concern about undue influence on the proportionality of the ultimate sentence.”
Kathryne Young, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said a judge has more leeway to admit different kinds of evidence.
“It’s easy to see how allowing untested accusations into a sentencing hearing could be unfair to a defendant,” Young said. “This practice has garnered criticism from legal scholars in the past.”
Steele’s push to have the women attend the sentencing lends credence to accusations of him having a vendetta against Cosby despite what the prosecutor’s predecessor has said was a stunning lack of credible evidence against the legend.
Former District Attorney Bruce Castor said that Steele and O’Neill have acted in concert to bring down Cosby using highly questionable tactics and violating judicial ethics, pointing out that Steele ran campaign ads that promised to take down Cosby.
Steele’s office did not return a request for comment.
June D’Ambrose, who stood outside the court for a large portion of Cosby’s initial trial last year, said Steele simply wants to turn the hearings into a circus and a spectacle.
“This has been what it’s all about from Day 1,” said D’Ambrose, an unemployed paralegal. “They manufactured evidence, they didn’t let it be known that Mr. Cosby’s accuser was after money; that her mother wanted revenge because Mr. Cosby is Black and her daughter is gay. That Steele has this feud with Bruce Castor.”
Castor has accused Steele of using the case as a political tool.
“What is happening to Cosby, as bad a man as he undoubtedly is, should never happen to anyone in America,” Castor said in a series of emails earlier this year. “I’m 36 years in the justice system, much of it at a pretty high level and I’m disgusted that any citizen entitled to the presumption of innocence has been treated this way.”
Cosby has never been charged in connection to any of the other women’s claims and many of the accusations are between three and four decades old, only surfacing in late 2014 after another comedian joked that Cosby was a “rapist,” a claim that’s never been proven even with his conviction.
The star, who has given more than $200 million to historically black colleges and universities and has lent groundbreaking art work to the Smithsonian and other museums, was convicted in April of plying former Temple University employee Andrea Constand with a Benadryl tablet and touching her under her pants without consent.
Constand admitted to voluntarily taking the tablet after she repeatedly expressed to Cosby that she was anxious about quitting her job.
He told her that the tablets were what he took when he had trouble relaxing.
A court officer who does not want to be identified said he doesn’t want to be the one to place handcuffs on Cosby if he’s ordered to prison this month.
“I hope I’m not on that detail,” the officer said. “It’s wrong, the whole thing was wrong. She voluntarily accepted a Benadryl tablet, he didn’t force it upon her like people believe — she could have said yes or no. They had a grown-up relationship. It was an affair until she got greedy and he was no longer interested.”
After Castor decided that there wasn’t enough credible evidence to bring charges against Cosby more than a dozen years ago, he convinced the comedian to waive his right to remain silent and sit for a civil deposition — one Castor promised could never be used against Cosby in any criminal trial.
“I thought making Mr. Cosby pay money was the best I was going to be able to set the stage for … I was hopeful that I had made Ms. Constand a millionaire,” he said.
Constand then reached an out-of-court civil settlement with Cosby worth $3.4 million.
Castor testified that he granted Cosby immunity from prosecution and that future prosecutors were bound to honor that deal. Steele did not honor the agreement when he won election as district attorney in 2015.
“A sitting prosecutor spent $1 million proving Cosby is guilty in campaign ads before charges were ever brought,” Castor said. “That’s in direct contravention of written ethics rules which says prosecutors cannot do that.”