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5 Months After The Trial Ended, Cosby's Sentencing Hearing Begins

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Bill Cosby walks into a Pennsylvania courthouse today to face the judge who has presided over his sexual assault case. He could face years in prison. He could face no prison. So let's talk through the process with Laura Benshoff of member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Good morning.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Let's just remember many, many women accused Bill Cosby. But this is one specific case, right?

BENSHOFF: That's right. There have been dozens of accusations of sexual assault against the 81-year-old entertainer. But the only one that has so far borne criminal charges and gone to trial was the case of Andrea Constand. She says that in 2004, Cosby gave her pills and then sexually assaulted her while she was unable to fight him off.

INSKEEP: OK, so that is a conviction in one case. But you have all these other cases. How if at all would prosecutors like to bring in the stories of the other women?

BENSHOFF: Well, they asked to bring in what's called uncharged allegations during sentencing, kind of what you might have seen during the Larry Nassar trial at Michigan. But...

INSKEEP: Where woman after woman after woman got to get up and say...

BENSHOFF: Right.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

BENSHOFF: But the short answer is that the judge said no. You know, he said there's no precedent for this. But there is still a question because, as I said, this trial was a result of charges based on the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. But during the trial itself back in April, five other women whose accusations have not resulted in criminal charges - they all testified. And so it's not clear if we'll hear from them again or hear some of their testimony again.

INSKEEP: OK, so not clear what's going to happen over the next number of hours and days. But when it's done, what are the possible sentences, and how would the judge decide?

BENSHOFF: Long story short, Pennsylvania gives judges a ton of leeway. But the state does have what are called sentencing guidelines. And I talked to Mark Bergstrom, the head of the PA sentencing commission that puts out those guidelines. And he basically said in the most typical case, the minimum sentence would be about 22 months to 36 months. And the absolute maximum for each of the three counts Cosby's been convicted of is 10 years in prison. But that said, within the law, the judge can decide to give Cosby house arrest or probation, and that's all kosher.

INSKEEP: What factors would lead the judge in that direction if at all?

BENSHOFF: Well, we're expecting that Cosby's attorneys are going to ask for leniency - right? - because he's not the typical person facing sentencing. He's 81. He has well-publicized vision problems. He has a history of philanthropy. These are all things his attorneys are likely to bring up. But on the other hand, prosecutors are probably going to ask for a stiffer penalty than what's normal based on the fact that, as I said, six women testified at his trial that he took advantage of them. And the judge just can't ignore that information. The last question the judge is going to weigh is whether the sentences will run at the same time or one after the other.

INSKEEP: You said history of philanthropy. Is that really something that can get you a lighter sentence in a case like this?

BENSHOFF: I mean, I think that the defense can bring in - anyone who can testify to the character and the contributions that Cosby has made during his life and say that that's a reason that he shouldn't spend what are possibly his remaining years in a state prison.

INSKEEP: OK. Laura Benshoff, thanks very much - really appreciate it.

BENSHOFF: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She's with our member station WHYY in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.