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After scores of allegations, Bill Cosby is going to prison. What changed?

Comedian and actor Bill Cosby, 81, was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, though some 60 women have accused him of similar crimes going back 50 years. William Brangham learns more from Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press, then gets reaction from Lili Bernard, one of Cosby’s accusers.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first, comedian and actor Bill Cosby was today sentence to spend three to 10 years in state prison for sexual assault.

    William Brangham has the latest.

  • William Brangham:

    It was a striking sight this afternoon, Bill Cosby in handcuffs being led out of a Pennsylvania courthouse. Five months ago, Cosby was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand back in 2004. At that trial, several other women who allege Cosby had similarly assaulted them testified against him.

    Today, Judge Steven O'Neill said the evidence, sometimes from Cosby's own words, was — quote — "overwhelming" that Cosby had planned to drug and assault Constand. And he declared Cosby a sexually violent predator.

    Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press has been covering this Cosby case from the very beginning. I spoke with her earlier today.

  • Maryclaire Dale:

    Well, the court — the court officers and the judge tried to keep a close tab on emotions.

    And Cosby himself was actually surprisingly relaxed through most of the day. Even after the three-to-10-year sentence was handed down and Cosby's lawyers and publicists were taking off his watch and tie while the judge decided whether he had to go to prison that day or later, even during that time, Cosby was still loose, laughing with his — again, with his lawyers and publicists.

    Andrea Constand, sitting not very far away, was staring straight at the judge quietly and somewhat solemnly, as the judge delivered the final sentence and delivered remarks about the trauma that she's endured, not just at the time, but in the years since.

  • William Brangham:

    Constand herself did get a chance to speak. What did she have to say?

  • Maryclaire Dale:

    Actually, yesterday she took the stand and gave only a few words of testimony in terms of her victim impact statement.

    She had sent a five-or-so-page letter to the judge that details — again, she says she has gone from a person who was confident, secure, really looking forward to the years ahead of her, to somebody who now finds herself stuck in midlife, because she questions her own strength, given that she wasn't able to rebuff Mr. Cosby that night.

    And the judge said, she was a strong professional athlete, but Cosby had to give her those drugs because she would have been able to fight him off.

    But, yesterday, she took the stand very briefly and said, Judge, I have been heard. Mr. Cosby has heard me. You have heard me. All I want is for you to do what you see to be justice.

  • William Brangham:

    And I understand the sentence range is three to 10 years.

    Do you have any sense of how much time he actually might spend in jail?

  • Maryclaire Dale:


    It's interesting, 10 years being the maximum sentence that the judge could have assigned, so he did go to the maximum, if Cosby doesn't get paroled sooner.

    So, after three years, he will be able to go to the parole board, but DA Kevin Steele noted today that Andrea Constand and her family can write to the parole board and fight that. My guess is that they well might, depending on the situation or where they are in their lives at that time.

    But Cosby will have to persuade a parole board that he is no longer a danger to the community and to other young women. Judge O'Neill today took a point to say, even though the defense said he's 81 and the recidivism in sex assault cases for a man of his age is nearly zero, O'Neill said that he believes Cosby remains a danger, that with drugs and with his power and money, wealth, access, he might well still be a danger to other people.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press, thank you so much.

  • Maryclaire Dale:

    Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    So,what does this sentence, coming amid the larger MeToo movement, mean for the survivors of sexual assault?

    Lili Bernard is one of more than 60 women who said Cosby raped, drugged, coerced, or sexually assaulted them going back all the way to the mid-1960s. Bernard was an actress who appeared on "The Cosby Show" back in the 1990s, where she says Cosby took her under her wing, but then drugged her and raped her.

    Bernard's allegations were not included in this case, but she and a number of other survivors attended today's sentencing and the earlier trial.

    And Lili Bernard joins me today.

    Thank you very much for being here.

    I know that you and so many of the other victims of Mr. Cosby's crimes have been following this case so closely for so long. I wonder, did you ever imagine that today would actually come?

  • Lili Bernard:

    I did not. I really believed that he would go to his grave as a free man. So this was an absolutely unexpected outcome.

  • William Brangham:

    So what is it, you think, turned the tide? Was it simply Andrea Constand and her regular saying, I must have justice in this case, or what was it?

  • Lili Bernard:

    Absolutely, Andrea was a great, big part of it.

    I have called her on many occasions the Joan of Arc in the war on rape, because it takes tremendous courage to be able to stand up against such a Goliath, a revered, beloved, iconic father figure in the entertainment industry, who just has 400 — millions of dollars at his disposition to put up a good fight.

    And then she withstood the victim blaming and shaming on the stand. She's an incredibly courageous person. And her family demonstrated during their victim impact statement how they serve for her as a source of strength and unity and power, as a springboard for her to be able to have voiced her suffering to the world.

    So, yes, and then, of course, the MeToo movement. Andrea Constand was definitely the catalyst of the MeToo movement. And then came the brave survivors of campus rape who — who started the anti-campus rate movement in 2012, 2013, 2014.

    And that provided a fertile ground for us, the Cosby survivors, who started speaking out in the end of 2014 and 2015 to just continue with this fight, to join the battle, to join the army.

    So, yes, there's more of an awareness in society. And there's been a shift in culture towards believing women, towards valuing women's lives. So, absolutely, it's a new culture, a new day.

  • William Brangham:

    When you were assaulted by Mr. Cosby, you were a very young actress at the time. I know he tried to be a mentor to you, and then allegedly committed these horrible acts.

    I know that you confronted him, you went to him and said, don't ever do this to me again. I — but I know that that was a very difficult thing for you to do. I know your agent…

  • Lili Bernard:

    No, no, I didn't say that.

  • William Brangham:

    But I know your agent tried to dissuade you from talking about this.

  • Lili Bernard:

    I didn't say, don't ever do this to me again. Yes.

  • William Brangham:

    I'm just curious, do you think if another…

  • Lili Bernard:

    Well, I told him that I would report him to the police.


  • William Brangham:

    Go ahead, please.

  • Lili Bernard:

    Oh, I didn't say that, don't ever do this to me. That was implicit. Of course, I implied that.

    But I did tell him that I would report him to the police, that I would go to the hospital and find out exactly what he slipped into my sparkling apple cider, and that what he was doing was also, in a sense, incest, because he called me his daughter.

    He — I have answering machine recordings with him where he says, "You're one of my kids." He made it very clear to me that I was to look upon him as a father figure. He told that to my dad in person at the Cosby Studios. He told that to my cousins in person at the Cosby Studios. He told that to my mother on the phone.

    So it was very clear that the mentoring relationship that we had was in preparation for my guest starring role on "The Cosby Show," was a paternal one, a totally platonic, paternal one. So, yes, it was completely devastating to me to be betrayed like that.

    And I didn't realize that all of this — that all of this support that he was showing for me, this uplifting — because he was introducing me to the production team, the writers, and telling them that I was going to be starring on "The Cosby Show," that he'd be writing a role for me, and that he encouraged them to go visit the off-Broadway productions that I was acting in, in theater.

    And so I didn't understand that all of this stroking, all of this lifting up of my acting skills — and he also commented that I was a great painter — was nothing but grooming, so that I would — so that he could place me in a place so vulnerable that I would trust him enough to take a drink of apple — sparkling apple cider.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Lili Bernard, I know this has been a momentous day for you, and I appreciate you talking with us.

  • Lili Bernard:

    Oh, my pleasure. My pleasure. Thank you.

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