Around Franklin County, mixed feelings over Cosby’s sentence

  • Bill Cosby departs after his sentencing hearing at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. Cosby left in handcuffs to begin serving a three-to-10 year prison sentence for sexual assault. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) Matt Slocum

Staff Writer
Published: 9/26/2018 12:30:05 AM

“Wow,” said Jess Begans, when told of comedian Bill Cosby’s sentencing to 3 to 10 years in jail on sex assault charges Tuesday. She is director of counseling for the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, which helps Franklin County women with domestic abuse and related crimes

When asked if victims of sexual assault feel that justice was served in the sentencing of this rich and famous, part-time Shelburne resident, she said: “Justice looks very different to every survivor. Not everyone wants to go through the justice system. Even if you get a guilty verdict, it can be completely re-traumatizing.

“And not every person feels they want the person who assaulted them to go to jail.”

Begans said reactions to Cosby’s guilty verdict shows people are trying to balance their old fondness for Cosby’s television shows with their belief in the women who say they were drugged and sexually assaulted by him. “One thing triggering all this coverage was that people thought Bill Cosby was a great guy,” said Begans. “They were saying, he would never do that.” 

Before sentencing Cosby, Judge Steven O’Neill upheld a Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board’s finding that Cosby was a  “sexually violent predator.” Cosby was ordered to undergo monthly counseling for the rest of his life and, if freed from prison, he must register with police on a sex offender registry, so that neighbors and schools would be alerted if he lives nearby.

Would Cosby have to be registered on the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry? Only if he is to travel back to Massachusetts and live in his Shelburne home for at least 14 days in any calendar year, or “resides” for four or more consecutive or nonconsecutive days in any month,” according to Felix Browne, communications director for the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Officials at the Northwest district attorney’s office, which regularly investigates and prosecutes incidents of sexual assault, declined to comment on the Cosby case, saying they don’t comment on cases outside their jurisdiction.

In Shelburne, where Cosby’s family has an estate, and where over the years many residents have had positive interactions with the celebrity, people have grown increasingly reluctant to comment on the case as it proceeded through the courts, some expressing the sort of confused feelings to which Begans referred.

When Cosby was convicted in April, some residents who know the Cosbys expressed sympathy for the family, which has been a presence in Shelburne for more than four decades.

Town Clerk Joe Judd said he was “sad to hear this, but I have confidence they will work together, as a strong family, to get through it.”

“I have had a business relationship with them for 20 years, and have found them to be great people,” he said. “They have treated me with the greatest respect, and I will continue to respect their privacy.”

Although the Cosbys have several homes in the United States, they have many ties to Shelburne.

Bill and Camille Cosby have lived on Bardwells Ferry Road in Shelburne Center since 1971, according to the Registry of Deeds, and their five children attended private schools in the area. Cosby earned a doctorate in education at the nearby University of Massachusets.

Their son, Ennis, who was killed in California 21 years ago, is buried in Shelburne.

Besides their home and 21 acres, the Cosbys own several hundred acres of conservation land in the area around their estate. Over the years Cosby was seen on occasion at local venues in Shelburne Falls, Greenfield and Amherst, but the family largely kept to itself on its gated compound near the Deerfield River, occasionally breaking into the news, like the time in the 1980s when Cosby sued a local television installer for allegedly overcharging for a private satellite and cablevision system at the estate, or sometimes appearing at a local coffee shop.

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