Bill Cosby's lawyers, psychologist spar in court over 'predator' label

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Bill Cosby, once known as ‘America’s dad,’ arrived for his sentencing hearing on a sexual assault conviction, Monday. Cosby became the first celebrity convicted of a sex crime since the emergence of the #MeToo movement last year.
Bill Cosby departing the Montgomery County Courthouse on March 6, 2018, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. PHOTO: AFP

NORRISTOWN (REUTERS) - Bill Cosby's lawyers and a state-appointed psychologist argued in court on Monday (Sept 24) over whether the disgraced comedian should be deemed a "sexually violent predator" under Pennsylvania law as a two-day sentencing hearing began for Cosby's sexual assault conviction.

Cosby, who was found guilty in April, is the first celebrity to face a possible prison sentence since the start of the #MeToo movement, the national reckoning with sexual misconduct that has brought down dozens of powerful men in entertainment, politics and other fields.

Cosby, 81, built a family-friendly reputation playing the affable Dr Cliff Huxtable in the 1980s television comedy The Cosby Show.

He was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a former administrator at his alma mater Temple University, at his Philadelphia-area home in 2004. More than 50 other women also have accused him of sexual abuse going back decades.

If Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas Judge Steven O'Neill agrees with prosecutors' recommendation to label him a predator under state law, Cosby would face more onerous reporting requirements, including monthly counselling and registration as a sex offender with police for the rest of his life.

Kristen Dudley, a psychologist with the state sex offender board, told the court that Cosby met the criteria to be labelled a predator. She said people who commit this sort of aberrant sexual behaviour, which she described as a form of paraphilia, were likely to reoffend.

When questioned by lawyers for Cosby, who oppose the designation, she said she had taken his age and blindness into account as well as the fact that there are no allegations more recent than his assault of Constand.

"He is an esteemed member of the community and is able to meet and befriend people," Dudley said, adding that Cosby has been accused of sexually assaulting female acquaintances.

"Being blind does not stop him from meeting people."

Cosby had arrived earlier at the courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania, walking with a cane and holding the arm of his spokesman, Andrew Wyatt. A number of accusers, including model Janice Dickinson, were on hand for the sentencing hearing.

Cosby faces up to 10 years on each of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, although it is unlikely the judge would go as high as 30 years, according to Steven Chanenson, a law professor at Villlanova University and an expert on sentencing.

State sentencing guidelines, which are not mandatory, recommend a sentence between two and four years, Chanenson said.

Prosecutors are expected to seek a lengthy sentence, citing the nature of Cosby's crime as well as his alleged history of misconduct.

Cosby's first trial in 2017 ended in a mistrial when jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict.

Soon after that proceeding, a series of women began levelling sexual misconduct allegations against influential men, launching the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that have encouraged victims to speak up about their experiences.

The judge allowed prosecutors to call five other accusers as witnesses in Cosby's second trial over the objections of his defense team, bolstering Constand's account. All of the women told stories that were markedly similar to Constand's: Cosby would offer to be their mentor before plying them with alcohol and drugs and sexually assaulting them.

Prosecutors had asked O'Neill for permission to call an unspecified number of accusers as witnesses during the sentencing hearing but the judge denied that request last week.

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