Judge brands Cosby sexually violent predator

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Norristown (United States) (AFP)

A Pennsylvania judge on Tuesday ordered that disgraced television icon Bill Cosby register as a sexually violent predator, ahead of his sentence for assaulting a woman at his Philadelphia mansion 14 years ago.

The 81-year-old -- once beloved as "America's Dad" -- was convicted five months ago of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, a former university basketball administrator, the first celebrity hauled before court in the #MeToo era.

Judge Steven O'Neill retired to his chambers in Norristown near Philadelphia, saying he would announce the sentence at 1:30 pm (1730 GMT), which could see Cosby become one of the most famous Americans ever sent to prison.

Cosby, a once towering figure in late 20th century American popular culture and the first black actor to grace primetime US television, risks a maximum sentence of up to 10 years behind bars.

Before withdrawing, however, O'Neill accepted a prosecution request to designate Cosby a violent sexual predator, which will force him to register with police for the rest of his life and submit to mandatory counseling.

Pennsylvania law defines such an offender as having "a mental abnormality or personality disorder" that makes them likely to engage in repeat crimes.

"Do you understand that the judge has determined that you qualify as a sexually violent predator?" one of the prosecutors asked.

"Yes," replied Cosby, once adored by millions for his defining role on "The Cosby Show," dressed in a navy pin-stripped suit, white shirt and red tie.

Earlier on Tuesday, psychologist Timothy Foley, testifying for the defense, said that the risk of Cosby re-offending was "extraordinarily low."

- Future victim 'possible' -

"He's 81. Sex offense over 70 becomes negligible. He has no known sexual misconduct over the last 14 years," Foley told the court.

Cosby's lawyer Joseph Green, his third lead counsel since his arrest and charging in December 2015, called the risk of re-offense "next to zero."

But O'Neill thought otherwise.

On Monday, the first day of Cosby's extended sentencing hearing, a member of the state board recommending the designation, said that it was "possible" he had already met "a future victim".

"Being blind doesn't make you unconscious," she said.

Found guilty on April 26 by a unanimous jury, the pioneering comedian and award-winning actor now risks becoming one of the most famous Americans ever sent to prison.

He will be the first celebrity sentenced for a sex crime since the 2017 downfall of Harvey Weinstein ushered in a US reckoning on sexual harassment.

Prosecutors have demanded the "maximum" sentence, 10 years after the three counts of aggravated indecent assault were merged into one, served in a state prison, together with a $25,000 fine and the full cost of the prosecution.

Defense lawyers argue that Cosby should be confined to house arrest, as he has been since his conviction, arguing that he is too old and too frail -- the actor says he is legally blind -- to endure a correctional facility.

Cosby has been confined to his home on a $1 million bail for nearly three years.

- 'Crushed my spirit' -

On Monday, chief prosecutor Kevin Steele castigated Cosby for failing to express any remorse for his crimes and dismissed the argument that the defendant was "too old" to go to jail.

"Nobody is above the law," Steele said.

Around 60 women, many of them onetime aspiring actresses and models, have publicly branded Cosby as a calculating, serial predator who plied victims with sedatives and alcohol to bed them over four decades.

But only one case -- that involving Constand, a former Temple University employee turned massage therapist -- was recent enough to be prosecuted.

"All I'm asking for is justice as the court sees fit," Constand told the court on Monday.

"Bill Cosby took my beautiful, healthy young spirit and crushed it. He robbed me of my health and vitality, my open nature, and my trust in myself and others," she added in a five-page victim impact statement.

"When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities.

"Now, almost 15 years later, I'm a middle-aged woman who's been stuck in a holding pattern for most of her adult life, unable to heal fully or to move forward."