Bill Cosby’s legal team is readying a long-shot bid to get his sexual assault conviction overturned. They’re also fighting civil lawsuits filed by some accusers that threaten to drain his vast fortune. (Sept. 27) AP
Convicted sex assailant Bill Cosby has spent one week in a Pennsylvania prison as of Tuesday, and so far, according to his spokesman and a prison spokeswoman: He is in “good spirits” and feels safe with prison trustees to guide him around. He’s not been attacked or in a fight; he talks daily by phone to his wife Camille; and he’s pleased the prison staff has treated him “respectfully.”
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on Cosby’s vow to appeal his three-to-10 years sentence and his April conviction on three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault.
His defense lawyer, Joseph Green, declined to comment to USA TODAY on when he plans to file pleadings or what arguments he might make. “We’ll let our pleading speak for itself,” he said.
But Andrew Wyatt, Cosby’s fiery publicist who accused prosecutors, accusers and their lawyers of conducting “the most racist and sexist trial in the history of the United States,” says Cosby, 81, and legally blind, is coping well in SCI Phoenix, a new state prison outside Philadelphia.
There have been no “dramatic moments,” despite tabloid reports to the contrary, Wyatt said. The National Enquirer’s online website (“We pay for juicy info!”) even reported Tuesday that Cosby has hired a team of “experts” to research ways to “bust him out” of prison.
“Don’t believe the tabloids,” Wyatt scoffed to USA TODAY. “They said someone threw a banana at him, that he was in a gang fight. The tabloid reports are false, asinine and ridiculous.”
Amy Worden, a spokeswoman Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said the staff at the prison report Cosby has been in “good spirits.”
“His attitude is great; Mr. Cosby is a very strong human being,” Wyatt said. “He had prepared himself for this moment.”
Worden said Cosby is not yet in the general prison population but integration remains a “long term goal” for Inmate No. NN7687.
“They’re not putting him in (anytime) time soon, because he can’t see who is coming towards him, he can’t see objects or persons or even colors,” Wyatt said.
In the meantime, other prisoners, known as “trustees,” have been assigned to help guide him around some areas of the facility, such as the library or the yard, Wyatt and Worden said.
“There are several inmate staff assigned to assist Mr. Cosby for several hours a day,” Worden said. “This is standard procedure for any elderly or infirm inmate who needs assistance getting around.”
Wyatt said Cosby is pleased that he’s been treated well by prison staff. “He said they’re not being mean to him or anything, they’ve treated him with respect, everyone has been respectful,” Wyatt said. “He feels safe.”
He can’t yet receive visitors – that could begin in a few weeks once potential visitors have been vetted, Wyatt said – but he takes daily calls from his wife of 54 years; he and Camille talk mostly about how he’s doing and how she’s doing, Wyatt said.
She and their three surviving daughters also are coping well, Wyatt said. Even before the sentencing, Cosby’s wife attacked the judge and prosecutors, accusing Judge Steven O’Neill of being biased and unethical during the trial and asserting that District Attorney Kevin Steele played a doctored audio tape for the jury.
“Her attitude is great, she feels exactly the same as Mr. Cosby,” Wyatt said. Camille Cosby is leading the Cosby effort to get the state judicial conduct board to investigate O’Neill for alleged bias during the trial.
After Cosby was sentenced by O’Neill on Sept. 25, Wyatt said Cosby would appeal his sentence for conviction for drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his home outside Philadelphia in 2004.
According to Pennsylvania law, a defendant who seeks to appeal his sentence via a motion must file a motion no later than 10 days after sentencing, which would be Friday. If such a motion is not filed in time, the defendant’s notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days of sentencing.
After he was sentenced, Cosby was immediately taken into custody and driven in handcuffs to a county jail facility. From there he was taken to SCI Phoenix where he was assessed for his physical, medical and security needs.
Green argued at sentencing that those needs were reasons to allow Cosby to remain on house arrest while he appeals, but O’Neill refused, saying it was time for Cosby to face “justice.”
Legal experts have said Cosby faces long odds of winning on appeal, and Steele has said he is confident Cosby’s conviction will stand.
Appellate courts don’t retry cases; they look at the trial record to see if legal errors were made. But they give trial judges broad discretion to make decisions affecting how a case is tried, and they overturn only a fraction of convictions.
Cosby’s lawyers would have to demonstrate that O’Neill made serious errors that violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.
One of the key issues Cosby is expected to raise on appeal is O’Neill’s unexplained change of mind in allowing five other women to testify against Cosby at his second trial about uncharged crimes they said he committed against them. He allowed only one such other accuser to testify at the first trial, which ended in a mistrial in June 2017.
State law permits such testimony if it is aimed at showing a larger pattern of “prior bad acts,” and as long as the probative value of the testimony outweighs its prejudicial effect on the defense.
During the second trial, Cosby’s lawyers criticized the other accusers’ testimony as excessive and prejudicial, and twice demanded a mistrial over some of the things they said on the stand. O’Neill refused.