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Sexual Justice and Injustice

Today was a great day for celebrity defendants and the people who always want them to get the lightest sentences possible even if they are guilty. That’s about the only people whom it was great for.

Bill Cosby is released from prison by order of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which found that the prior prosecuting attorney promised him he would not be prosecuted for the alleged drugging and sexual assault of Andrea Constand in 2004. As I understand it, the previous District Attorney made a deal with Cosby that he would not be tried criminally for the assault, if he would testify in a civil case Constand had brought against him. He did testify in a way that was damaging enough to him, that Constand won an award of $3.38 million against him. Then about ten years later, a new District Attorney, acting on what was found when the transcript of the civil trial was released, arrested Cosby, and he was found guilty of sexual assault, and received a prison sentence of 3-10 years.

Cosby has served three years of the sentence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court believed it had enough evidence, though there was no written document showing the prior agreement, to conclude that Cosby and his attorneys relied on the promise made by the former D.A., and that the later D.A. could not validly ignore that agreement, and then prosecute Cosby, who presumably only testified against himself in the civil case, because he was promised immunity from the criminal case.

On the face of it, this seems very unfortunate; but the higher courts, at least the better ones, do try to protect defendants’ rights. They felt that assuming there was indeed this promise by the D.A., which the defendant relied on, the future D.A.s were bound by it.

The legal principle relied on by the Court of course subsumes the individual case; it will be used by future defendants, though more likely, it will prevent other prosecutors from making such deals. It obviously helped Cosby that he has had top counsel from the outset of the various accusations against him for drugging and raping women. Actually, he was eligible for parole, but it was denied because he refused to participate in a therapy program for sex offenders. Otherwise, he might have already been out of prison, although only on parole. Now he is presumably free of all restrictions.

Then we have the sentencing of Allison Mack, an actor who was one of the stars of the show “Smallville.” She was very good and likeable in the role, and I was shocked to learn of the allegations against her, none of which have been denied or refuted, that she was one of the top assistants, if not the #2, to Keith Raniere,the leader of the very weird, even as cults go, cult known by various names, including NXIVM. This organization originally sold itself as focusing on female empowerment, and drew in the daughters of various wealthy people, and some celebrities themselves, including Mack.

The testimony at Raniere’s trial told about how the cult ultimately became a vehicle for Raniere to become wealthy, and to create a harem of women for him, who were in many cases blackmailed into following his wishes because of damaging personal information they were forced to reveal to join in the first place. Mack ended up recruiting the women in some cases, and then indoctrinating them into the sex slave role. One of the most shocking aspects involved the branding of women, which was something that at least some of the evidence showed that Mack had come up with on her own.

Eventually, the authorities went after Raniere, and Mack was trying to help him escape. But they caught him, and then Mack and some other subordinates were arrested. Raniere was tried and convicted, and sentenced to 120 years in prison. Meanwhile, Mack was allowed to live in the custody of her parents’ home, and then was only sentenced today, three years after her arrest.

The recommended sentencing guidelines were 14.5-17.5 years. But the prosecution recommended a lesser sentence, because of Mack’s help in giving evidence against Raniere and other defendants. She turned over tapes and other evidence to prosecutors. She apologized, for what she said was her greatest regret and mistake in her life. She said that she is “truly sorry.” Today, she was given a sentence of three years in prison by the judge.

My opinion is that this is appalling. I always contend that one has to respect the judicial system, because if people do not accept the verdicts, we have no system, and we are back to the days of lynchings and vigilante justice. However, this clearly seems a case where a woman semi-celebrity,, backed by a lot of money to hire top lawyers, managed to get off with almost a slap on the wrist for actions for which most people would have gotten at least 15 years in prison. Mack may get out in a year or so.

A couple of decades ago, there was this lurid case from Canada, I think, where a man and a woman kidnapped and tortured and sexually abused at least one other woman for an extended period The man got about 25 years in prison. The woman claimed that the man forced or frightened her into going along with it, and she got around six years.

There was an article which noted that in these cases, the women seemed to get consistently lighter sentences than the men. This may or may not be true, and there may be various factors even if true. But it may be that Mack was advantaged by her gender. The actress Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter India Oxenberg, was a member of the NXIVM cult, said that she forgave Mack, that “she has seen the light.” Another woman who was also apparently in the cult was quoted in a story today saying that the sentence was too light, that Mack is a good actress, and acted out a role in pleading for leniency. It does certainly seem that Mack was allowed to pivot on a dime, and turn from cold-hearted exploiter to sympathetic maker of mistakes.

The decisions have been made. Cosby is free. Mack will be released before long, and may well land herself more roles, or she will adopt a new persona, and write a book about how she “has turned over a new leaf,’ as one article said today. Raniere, who is a truly bad person, but not necessarily out of the range of other cult leaders of the past, from what I have read, may or may not turn over a new leaf but he will never do it outside the prison walls. I think that there is something very wrong with the way that justice has been dispensed, but we all know that in general. I always liked Allison Mack in her role as Chloe on “Smallville,’ but if she indeed did what the available evidence says she did, then she is probably as guilty as Cosby and Harvey Weinstein at the least, irrespective of her gender.