Bill Cosby will be sentenced this week after being convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand in 2004. For the dozens of women who accused the comedian of sexual misconduct, this is their only chance to see Cosby behind bars.
“I really do hope he does get prison time. He’s responsible for his actions, and this is a way to show he’s taking responsibility — whether he wants to or not,” Lise-Lotte Lublin, a teacher in Las Vegas who said Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1989, tells TIME. “This is the message that has needed to be sent for a very long time.”
The stakes are high for Cosby’s two-day sentencing hearing, which begins Monday in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania – outside Cosby’s native Philadelphia. The 81-year-old faces a maximum of up to 30 years, meaning he would likely spent the rest of his life in prison. Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines recommend 22-36 months for someone with no previous criminal record. However, state sentencing rules could also allow him to get off with house arrest or probation.
It’s all up to the discretion of Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven T. O’Neill, an elected official with with 16 years on the bench.
Cosby was found guilty in April of three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault of Constand. At least 60 other women have accused the comedian of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1960s. (Cosby, who has been on house arrest since his conviction, has denied all of the allegations and his attorneys have said they intend to appeal the conviction.)
But many of Cosby’s accusers will never get their day in criminal court.
“I personally don’t see it as adequate justice for all of the other women,” Lublin says. “The system had a flaw it in: the statute of limitations, and that’s what we have to focus on changing so this doesn’t ever happen to someone else.”
Prosecutors were hoping to have other accusers tell their stories publicly at the sentencing. In January, 156 women gave powerful statements at the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct with underage girls, and said that they felt like their voice was finally heard.
But most of Cosby’s accusers won’t get that chance: On Thursday, O’Neill denied the prosecution’s request to allow other accusers to speak.
Constand will be allowed to give a victim impact statement. But it’s unclear whether the other five women who testified at the trial about prior “bad acts” — including Lublin and model Janice Dickinson — will be allowed to speak again. O’Neill asked the prosecution to clarify whether the prosecution intends to call them within 24 hours.
Both Lublin and Dickinson will be in Pennsylvania and hope to have the opportunity to be heard.
“There are 50 to 60 other women out there who wish they could be in my shoes and have this opportunity. I am doing this so that I can have some closure, I can get back to the beautiful life that I’ve always had,” Lublin says. “This is still a part of my process too — I’m still going through the healing process, I still need to close the book on my emotional tags that are connected to this.”
Dickinson’s attorney, Lisa Bloom, says that she wants Cosby to have to listen to the damage that his alleged assaults caused his victims. She says she has already heard the statement Dickinson hopes to read in court.
“It was a very powerful and moving statement about what she said the rape did to her, her career, her life — how it changed everything. She couldn’t trust people, she became a different person afterward,” Bloom says. “It was very hard for her to write that statement. It was very hard for her to read it to me even in the comfortable, safe setting of my office. It’s very hard for her to get on the plane and go out there. It’s going to be very hard for her to get up on the witness stand and do it. But she’s got the courage to do it.”
Most legal experts believe that Cosby will face some time in prison, but many don’t expect that he’ll get the maximum sentence. Though Cosby has been accused by dozens of other women, this is his first conviction.
The sentencing hearings will also determine whether Cosby will be designated as a sexually violent predator, which would require him to register as a sex offender for the rest of is life and undergo counseling.
Joseph Khan, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former sex crimes prosecutor in Pennsylvania, says he expects that O’Neill will be keenly aware of the stakes — including the heightened awareness of sexual assault and harassment since the #MeToo movement erupted a year ago.
Cosby’s legal team has attacked O’Neill, accusing him of bias because he had ran against a witness who testified in the pre-trial hearing for a political post. O’Neill said this week that he would not step down from the case and said the claim was “wholly without merit.”
“I don’t think the judge is going to feel swayed by public pressure from anybody… But I do think the judge is going to recognize how public this case is in thinking about deterrence,” Khan says. “It’s likely that the judge will recognize that whatever sentence he gives to a person convicted of hurting a woman in a horrible way is going to be a statement about what we think about that and how society should respond.
“I think, for that reason, that will be a very compelling reason against a probationary or house arrest sentence. He’s going to be conscious about sending the right message, and I think it’s very likely that he will impose prison time.”
Bloom says that she hopes the #MeToo movement has showed just how damaging sexual assault can be for its victims and that perpetrators need to be held accountable for their actions. She says she and Dickinson hopes Cosby gets the maximum sentence.
“Until that guilty verdict, many of us found it hard to believe that someone as wealthy and powerful as Bill Cosby could really be held accountable for what he had done,” Bloom says. “And the guilty verdict said, yes it is possible. You can stand up to somebody with that level of power and resources and you can get justice.”
It’s been a long road for the accusers to get to Cosby’s conviction in the one case. Constand first came forward to police in 2005, but a local prosecutor declined to press charges at the time. The first trial in Constand’s case ended in a mistrial in 2017.
And the legal battle for other women is just beginning. Several other women still have pending civil lawsuits against Cosby. Joseph Cammarata, an attorney representing seven women who have sued Cosby for defamation, says his case had been on hold and will be able to move forward once the criminal case concludes. He believes the guilty verdict will only help their case.
“I think what we have is a recognition that people in power, particularly men in power, cannot abuse their position and assault women,” he says. “My clients look forward to their opportunity to restore their good name and reputation.”
Lublin successfully fought to extend Nevada’s statue of limitations for sexual assault cases to make sure that other women in her position are able to have their day in court. Other women who accused Cosby have been leading the charge to change the law in their states. Lublin hopes that next week’s sentencing sends a strong message to other victims that it is possible to be believed.
“Hopefully, this is going to build a trend where victims are going to feel more comfortable to come forward,” Lublin says. “We can’t go back to the old ways.”
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