On Sept. 25, 2018, legendary comedian and television icon Bill Cosby received a three-to-10-year prison sentence after a jury convicted him of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.
This reporter recalls well the morning of that sentencing.
Due in court by 8:30 a.m., Cosby called me at about 8 a.m.
The comedian had developed a close relationship with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, including The Washington Informer. Throughout his trials (the first trial resulted in a mistrial after a panel from Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, failed to reach a unanimous verdict), Cosby regularly spoke to the Black Press.
He’d even call me at home and amuse my children with classic Cosby stories and routines.
On the morning of his sentencing where he knew Montgomery County, Pa., Judge Steven O’Neill would throw the book at him, Cosby wasn’t about to flinch.
He called concerned about a family matter that he learned about.
The phone rang at about 8 a.m. It was Cosby’s loyal spokesman Andrew Wyatt who said his boss wanted to chat.
“Mr. Brown. Mr. Stacy Brown,” Cosby exclaimed. “How’s the family? Is everything OK? I want you to know that you can call on me if you need anything.”
My response: “Thanks, but everything is good.”
Half kidding, I said, ‘Don’t you have an appointment this morning?”
Cosby brushed back. “O’Neill can wait. I’m not worried about him, you’ve been a friend, and I need to know if there’s anything I can do to help my friend.”
We talked about the cases as we had throughout the trial. “I’m going to walk in there and hold my head up high,” Cosby declared.
He reminded me of a couple of revealing conversations we’d shared.
One took place when Cosby and Wyatt each were convinced that the case amounted to a witch hunt, a blatant and racist attempt to destroy the legacy of the man once known as America’s Dad.
Networks had taken re-runs of groundbreaking shows like ‘I Spy,” “Fat Albert” and “The Cosby Show,” off the air.
And, for Cosby who has enough cash for a dozen lifetimes, it was problematic because it meant co-stars like Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Tempestt Bledsoe, and Keisha Knight Pulliam wouldn’t receive any hard-earned royalties.
“There were also people who didn’t have [prominent and regular roles], but you know I kept them on the payroll to make sure they were OK,” Cosby told me.
Now 82, Cosby knew the persona of America’s Dad was just because of his on-screen image.
Off-screen, he never pretended to act in a manner in which he was not.
“I’m ready,” he declared. “To go to that place where they want to send me [prison]. Do you know why I’m ready? Well, one thing to know is that these people have nothing on me except that I’m a successful and wealthy Black man. Nelson Mandela helped to prepare me for this.
“Camille [Cosby’s wife of nearly 60 years] and I visited Mandela years ago, and he took us to Robbin Island, where they held him all those years. He said I’d eventually have to face this too. I draw my strength from people like Nelson Mandela because if he can serve all those years, decades, as an innocent man, then who am I?”
Before the first trial, Cosby’s relationship with the Black Press had taken an ominous turn.
When allegations surfaced in 2014 and Cosby declined interview after interview with all media, I called Cosby’s home and recorded the comedian’s first statements of the scandal.
He wasn’t pleased about the intrusion and neither was Wyatt.
Still, during the call, Cosby didn’t ask for any special treatment.
“I only ask that the Black Press is fair,” Cosby requested.
He said the media was feeding off rhetoric from a district attorney, Kevin Steele, who had broken ethics and disregarded a previous agreement not to prosecute Cosby.
That agreement was reached with former District Attorney Bruce Castor, who convinced Cosby to waive his constitutional rights and give a deposition that was never supposed to see the light of day.
Castor told the Black Press that “Steele is breaking every rule, and it’s heartbreaking because Bill Cosby is being illegally prosecuted.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited that agreement earlier this summer as one reason the panel will hear an appeal from Cosby, who has maintained his innocence.
He’s also maintained his association with the Black Press.
NNPA President and CEO Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. has visited Cosby in prison on at least three occasions, and in November 2019, Cosby spoke exclusively to this reporter in a groundbreaking jailhouse interview.
Cosby vowed not to capitulate to a potential 2021 hearing before the state parole board in that interview.
“I have eight years and nine months left,” Cosby stated. “When I come up for parole, they’re not going to hear me say that I have remorse. I was there. I don’t care what group of people come along and talk about this when they weren’t there. They don’t know.”