US comedian Bill Cosby could be jailed for the rest of his life after being found guilty of three counts of sexual assault.
The 80-year-old was convicted on Thursday of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his mansion in Philadelphia in January 2004.
It vindicated a multitude of women who doubted anyone would ever believe their word against that of “America’s Dad” – with women’s advocates calling the verdict a turning point in the #MeToo movement, with the proof that Cosby’s nice-guy image was a sham.
Lili Bernard, who said Cosby sexually assaulted her before giving her a one-time role on his sitcom The Cosby Show in 1992, sobbed outside the court, saying: “I’m overcome with gratitude. I feel like I have to pinch myself. Am I awake? It’s a miracle.”
The verdict, in the first big-celebrity trial of the #MeToo era, sealed the spectacular late-in-life downfall of an entertainer who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV super-stardom as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing Dr Cliff Huxtable.
It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said Cosby drugged and molested them over five decades but whose stories were often disbelieved or ignored years before #MeToo put a spotlight on sexual misconduct by powerful men.
Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele after the prosecutor demanded Cosby be sent immediately to jail. Steele told the judge they’d learned through the trial that Cosby has an aeroplane, and feared he could flee.
Cosby angrily denied he has a plane and called Steele an “asshole”, shouting, “I’m sick of him!”
Judge Steven O’Neill decided Cosby can remain free on US one million dollars bail (£720,000) while he awaits sentencing.
Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each carrying a standard sentence of five to 10 years in prison. The counts are likely to be merged for sentencing purposes, but given Cosby’s age, even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.
Ms Constand, a 45-year-old Temple University women’s basketball administrator, said Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then sexually assaulted her as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no. Cosby claimed the encounter was consensual, saying he gave her the cold and allergy medicine Benadryl to relax.
Cosby waved to the crowd outside the courthouse, got into an SUV and left without saying anything. His lawyer Tom Mesereau declared “the fight is not over” and said he will appeal.
“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”
The district attorney became tearful as he commended Ms Constand for what he said was courage in coming forward. As Ms Constand stood silently behind him, Steele apologised to her for a previous DA’s decision in 2005 not to charge Cosby.
Cosby “was a man who had evaded this moment for far too long,” Steele said. “He used his celebrity, he used his wealth, he used his network of supporters to help him conceal his crimes.”
He added: “Now, we really know today who was really behind that act, who the real Bill Cosby was.”