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Cosby back in court Monday for start of sentencing

Disgraced US television icon Bill Cosby returned to a Pennsylvania court on Monday to face sentencing for sexual assault, five months after his conviction at the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.

[NORRISTOWN] Disgraced US television icon Bill Cosby returned to a Pennsylvania court on Monday to face sentencing for sexual assault, five months after his conviction at the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.

The frail 81-year-old - once beloved as "America's Dad" - faces a maximum potential sentence of 30 years for drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia mansion in January 2004.

He will be the first celebrity sentenced for a sex crime since the 2017 downfall of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein signaled the beginning of America's public reckoning with sexual harassment.

The pioneering comedian and award-winning actor, who now risks becoming one of the most famous Americans ever sent to prison, was found guilty April 26 on three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Each are punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but the sentence could also be served concurrently.

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Prosecutors will ask for him to be sent straight to prison, while his lawyers are likely to appeal for him to remain under house arrest pending the outcome of any appeals, given his age and frailty, reports say.

Cosby maintains that he is now legally blind.

The final decision rests with Judge Steven O'Neill, who will impose the sentence after a hearing that could stretch across two days in Norristown, a down-at-heel town just outside Philadelphia.

The entertainer chatted and even smiled with one of his lawyers, as he sat in court dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and patterned tie, with a handkerchief in his top pocket.

Not far away in the gallery sat Constand and a group of other Cosby accusers, chatting and hugging one another during recess in an upbeat almost triumphant mood.

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

The case involving Constand, a Canadian former basketball player and Temple University employee turned massage therapist, was the only one that happened recently enough to prosecute.

On Monday, the judge opened proceedings by hearing opposing arguments on whether Cosby should be included on the Pennsylvania state's list of violent sexual predators, as recommended by the state board.

Cosby's lawyer Joseph Green argued that it would be unconstitutional and claimed it would deprive him of time spent with his grandchildren.

Outside the court in Norristown, a protester carrying a sign saying "perseverance to all survivors" and a Cosby effigy placed in a shopping cart shouted for an end to the statute of limitations on rape as he arrived.

A trickle of supporters responded by shouting words of encouragement as they watched the once towering figure in late 20th century American popular culture - the first black actor to grace primetime US television - arrive.

Once adored by millions for his defining role on "The Cosby Show," he has been confined to his Philadelphia area mansion on a US$1 million bail for nearly three years, fitted with a GPS monitor and subjected to a violent sexual predator assessment after his guilty conviction.

As soon as the jury returned their verdict, prosecutors demanded that his bail be revoked, arguing he was a flight risk - but O'Neill refused to "lock him up right now."

"He doesn't have a plane, you asshole!" yelled Cosby in his first public outburst and loss of control after chief prosecutor Kevin Steele claimed he could flee anywhere in the world by private jet.

Judge O'Neill has refused to allow additional Cosby accusers to give statements at his sentencing, although it is not clear if the five others who testified at trial will in fact appear.

Cosby is now on his third lead lawyer since his arrest in December 2015, having parted ways with celebrity advocate Tom Mesereau after the guilty verdict.

Cosby's first trial ended in June 2017 with a hung jury, hopelessly deadlocked after 52 hours of deliberations.