NORRISTOWN, Pa. — Comic legend Bill Cosby, a once-beloved father figure and moralizing African-American cultural icon, was sentenced to 3 to 10 years in state prison Tuesday in a sexual assault case that was capped by the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
In his ruling, Judge Steven O’Neill said the evidence that Cosby planned the drugging and sexual assault of his victim was ‘‘overwhelming,’’ based on Cosby’s own words in a civil deposition.
Once the reality of the sentence sunk in, the aging comedian began to shed the trappings of his wealth. Out came his wallet, which he handed to an aide. Off came his elegant silk tie. Then he shrugged out of his bespoke dark-blue pinstripe suit jacket. He rolled up his sleeves.
There was no family member there to comfort him, so he joked and chuckled with his attorneys.
Eventually, court officials shooed everyone into the hall, but people lingered there, draped over the marble railings that ring the grand central staircase leading to Courtroom A. When Cosby finally emerged from the courtroom, he held his hands in front of him at his waist. Metal handcuffs gleamed on his wrists. He clutched his skinny wooden cane awkwardly with his shackled hands.
Flanked by armed sheriff’s deputies, he disappeared through an arched doorway, bound for a holding cell — Cosby’s first stop in a journey that will take him to a state prison where he’ll be confined to a tiny cell that could have fit into the corner of a room in any of his mansions. Outside the courthouse, Cosby’s detractors hugged and cheered as a driving rainstorm blasted down.
Cosby was convicted April 26 of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for the 2004 drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a 31-year-old Temple women’s basketball official he was mentoring. Constand, a former college and professional basketball player, testified in harrowing detail at the trial about losing control of her limbs after taking pills given to her by Cosby, who served on Temple’s board of trustees and was the public face of the university. The pills, Constand said, left her unable to stop him from violating her at his suburban Philadelphia estate. At Cosby’s sentencing hearing, she asked merely for ‘‘justice.’’
Before the sentence was announced, the judge quoted Constand, who in a written statement released Tuesday said Cosby ‘‘took my beautiful, healthy, young spirit and crushed it.’’ As the judge spoke those words, Cosby grumbled in a scoffing manner loudly enough to be heard by the audience.
Constand was the only woman whose case led to criminal charges against the comedian. More than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault or harassment, stretching back to the 1960s, when he was launching his comedy career and became the first African-American actor to star on a network television show with his role on the hit program ‘‘I Spy.’’ In countless media interviews, the women — including aspiring actresses and models; flight attendants; singers; and, in one instance, a doughnut-shop clerk — gave similar accounts of being dazzled by Cosby’s fame. Most said they never thought anyone would believe them, so they stayed quiet, privately harboring experiences that many said had scarred them for life.
Cosby once commanded an empire — a thriving entertainment behemoth, and the personal assistants, valets, publicists, and personal chefs that kept his luxe life and businesses running. He traveled by private plane between well-appointed homes in Manhattan, suburban Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and rural Massachusetts.
But on Tuesday, after he was officially designated a sexually violent predator, his power was stripped from him. He was not in command, and he was forced to listen quietly as a young prosecutor ran through a series of restrictions that will be imposed on him for the rest of his life.
Cosby, who never testified during the case, answered ‘‘Yes’’ over and over. Yes, he understood that he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. Yes, he understood that he’d have to let the state know about any job he took or anytime he changed residences.
During court breaks, with the judge outside the courtroom, Cosby smiled and laughed, tilting back in his chair. Cosby bantered breezily with two of his attorneys and Ed Ford, a pal from his youth who is the only friend who attended the two-day sentencing hearing.
‘‘With all the people that he helped in Philadelphia and Washington — paying for their education, paying for the insurance — it’s almost a disgrace that none of them showed up. People don’t realize how many people he helped,’’ Ford said. ‘‘And the Hollywood people? They were afraid.’’
On Tuesday, more than a dozen women who alleged abuse by Cosby — no longer doubting that the world would take them seriously — crowded into the ornate courtroom where Cosby finally got his comeuppance. Tamara Green, a model who says Cosby drugged and groped her around 1969 or 1970, drove alone cross-country in an RV from her home in the San Diego area. When her vehicle broke down in rural Tennessee, Green — now a lawyer — left it there, hopping a plane to Pennsylvania. Linda Kirkpatrick, who says Cosby drugged her after a tennis tournament in 1981, stepped away from her Bundt cake bakery in Costa Mesa, Calif., to witness a historic moment.
Many of the women sat with the arms around one another’s shoulders as the sentence was read. When it was clear that Cosby would not be allowed to remain free on bail during his appeal, former supermodel Janice Dickinson pumped her fist from her seat in the second row. Dickinson had testified during the trial that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in the early 1980s.