Minneapolis, Sep 27 (AP/UNB) — The University of Minnesota has awarded the late rock star Prince an honorary degree to recognize his influence on music and his role in shaping his hometown of Minneapolis.
University President Eric Kaler and Regent Darrin Rosha presented the school's highest honor, the Doctorate of Humane Letters, to Prince's sister, Tyka Nelson, in a ceremony on campus Wednesday evening. The university had been preparing to present it to Prince himself before his death in 2016.
Students from the university's School of Music were joined by guest artists including St. Paul Peterson and Cameron Kinghorn in paying tribute to Prince by performing music associated with his career.
While the event was free, it was booked to capacity ahead of time.
Berlin, Sept 26 (AP/UNB) — A German hospital on Wednesday discharged a member of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot after he made significant progress in his recovery from a suspected poisoning.
The Charite hospital said Pyotr Verzilov is no longer showing the symptoms of disorientation that he had when he arrived in mid-September after his initial treatment in Moscow. It said there's still an issue with the reaction of his pupils, but doctors are confident that will disappear.
Verzilov and other members of Pussy Riot served 15-day jail sentences for disrupting the World Cup final in Moscow in July to protest Russian police brutality.
German doctors treating Verzilov have said reports that he was poisoned are "highly plausible," but stressed they can't say how this might have occurred or who was responsible.
Verzilov fell ill on Sept. 11 after attending a friend's court hearing in the Russian capital, and was admitted to a Moscow hospital that evening with symptoms that included disorientation and widened pupils. Russian doctors suspected possible poisoning and treated him accordingly, emptying his stomach and performing a dialysis, German doctors say.
The Charite's Dr. Kai-Uwe Eckardt said the diagnosis of an anticholinergic syndrome hasn't changed, and "an intake or absorption of an exogenous substance as the cause of this syndrome still appears to be the most plausible explanation for his acute illness on Sept. 11."
Tests during his stay at the hospital have produced no indications of another cause, Eckardt added.
Charite's chairman, Dr. Karl Max Einhaeupl, added that tests so far haven't produced any clear indication of a specific substance that might have caused his illness. He said the Berlin hospital remains in contact with its Moscow counterparts to get more information on Verzilov's initial treatment.
Little Colorado River Gorge, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — Like a scene out of a high-octane action movie that he would star in, Will Smith celebrated his 50th birthday Tuesday by successfully bungee jumping from a helicopter near the Grand Canyon.
Cameras, which captured the stunt for a livestream on YouTube , showed the actor hooked to a harness and bungee cords dangling over a gorge in northeastern Arizona.
"This is some of the most beautiful stuff I've ever seen in my life," Smith said while still swinging over the chasm.
He described the experience as going "from pure terror to absolute bliss."
The entire event had the feel of a polished episode of reality TV. Camera crews showed Smith, wife Jada Pinkett Smith and his three children being greeted by dozens of relatives and friends on a platform. His "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" co-star, Alfonso Ribeiro, served as a host interviewing Smith and others before and after.
The stunt was billed as a leap "in the heart of the Grand Canyon." But the jump was outside Grand Canyon National Park on the Navajo Nation. The tribe's reservation borders the east rim of the national park.
A Navajo medicine man gave Smith a blessing and thanked him for coming to the reservation.
Smith said the bungee jump was a challenge from Yes Theory, a YouTube channel that makes videos of people doing activities outside of their comfort zone. But the event also raised money for charity through an online lottery for a chance to watch the jump in person. The proceeds will benefit access to education for children in struggling countries.
Norristown, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — At an age when other Hollywood stars are settling into retirement and collecting lifetime-achievement awards, an 81-year-old Bill Cosby was led away to prison in handcuffs Tuesday, sentenced to three to 10 years behind bars in what was seen by many of his accusers as a reckoning richly deserved and long overdue.
The comedian, TV star and breaker of racial barriers became the first celebrity of the #MeToo era to be sent to prison. He was found guilty in April of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his gated estate in 2004 after being barraged with similar accusations from more than 60 women over the past five decades.
"It is time for justice. Mr. Cosby, this has all circled back to you. The time has come," Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill said. He quoted from victim Andrea Constand's statement to the court, in which she said Cosby took her "beautiful, young spirit and crushed it."
Cosby declined the opportunity to speak before the sentence came down, and afterward sat laughing and chatting with his defense team. His wife of 54 years, Camille, was not in court. Constand smiled broadly on hearing the punishment and was hugged by others in the courtroom.
In a blistering statement, Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt said the comic was subjected to the "most racist and sexist trial in the history of the United States." Wyatt said all three of the psychologists who testified against Cosby were "white women who make money off of accusing black men of being sexual predators."
Cosby's lawyers asked that he be allowed to remain free on bail while he appeals his conviction, but the judge appeared incredulous over the request and ordered him locked up immediately, saying that "he could quite possibly be a danger to the community."
The comedian — who is legally blind and uses a cane — removed his watch, tie and jacket and walked out in a white dress shirt and red suspenders, his hands cuffed in front of him. He appeared downcast, his eyes failing to meet the camera, in a mug shot released by authorities.
Cosby must serve the minimum of three years before becoming eligible for parole.
"For decades, the defendant has been able to hide his true self and hide his crimes using his fame and fortune. He's hidden behind a character he created, Dr. Cliff Huxtable," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said at a news conference, referring to Cosby's best-known role. But "now, finally, Bill Cosby has been unmasked, and we have seen the real man as he is headed off to prison."
Constand stood at Steele's side but shook her head to say she had no comment.
Former model Janice Dickinson, who accused Cosby of violating her, looked at him in the courtroom and said: "Who gets the last laugh, pal?"
Another accuser in the courtroom, Lili Bernard, said: "There is solace, absolutely. It is his fame and his fortune and his phony philanthropy that has allowed him to get away with impunity. Maybe this will send a message to other powerful perpetrators that they will be caught and punished."
Cosby's punishment, which also included a $25,000 fine, came at the end of a two-day hearing at which the judge declared him a "sexually violent predator" — a modern-day scarlet letter that subjects him to monthly counseling for the rest of his life and requires that neighbors and schools be notified of his whereabouts. A psychologist for the state testified that Cosby appears to have a mental disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to have sex with women without their consent.
The comic once known as America's Dad for his role on the top-rated "Cosby Show" in the 1980s was convicted in April of violating Constand, Temple University women's basketball administrator, at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004. It was the first celebrity trial of the #MeToo era.
Constand testified that Cosby gave her what she thought were herbal pills to ease stress, then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized on a couch. Cosby claimed the encounter was consensual, and his lawyers branded her a "con artist" who framed the comedian to get a big payday — a $3.4 million settlement she received over a decade ago.
Five other accusers took the stand at the trial as part of an effort by prosecutors to portray him as a predator.
Cosby faced anywhere from probation to 10 years in prison. His lawyers asked for house arrest, saying he is too old and vulnerable to go to prison. Prosecutors asked for five to 10 years behind bars, warning that he could still pose a threat to women.
The sentencing came as another extraordinary #MeToo drama unfolded on Capitol Hill, where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh stands accused of sexual misconduct more than three decades ago.
Women's advocates hailed Cosby's sentence as a landmark #MeToo moment.
Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women of New York, credited Cosby's accusers with helping pave the way for #MeToo.
"Bill Cosby seeing the inside of a prison cell sends a strong message that predators — no matter who they are, from Hollywood to Wall Street to the Supreme Court — can no longer be protected at the expense of victims," she said.
Steele said Cosby could be sent to Laurel Highlands , a state prison for lower-risk inmates on the other side of the state, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. It serves inmates with special needs and has separate housing units for geriatric prisoners and programs for sex offenders.
In a statement submitted to the court and released Tuesday, Constand, 45, said that she has had to cope with years of anxiety and self-doubt. She said she now lives alone with her two dogs and has trouble trusting people.
"When the sexual assault happened, I was a young woman brimming with confidence and looking forward to a future bright with possibilities," she wrote in her five-page statement. "Now, almost 15 years later, I'm a middle-aged woman who's been stuck in a holding pattern for most of her adult life, unable to heal fully or to move forward."
She also wrote of Cosby: "We may never know the full extent of his double life as a sexual predator, but his decades-long reign of terror as a serial rapist is over."
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Constand and other accusers have done.
Constand went to police a year after waking up in a fog at Cosby's estate, her clothes askew, only to have the district attorney pass on the case. Another DA reopened the file a decade later and charged the TV star after stand-up comic Hannibal Buress' riff about Cosby being a rapist prompted other women to come forward and after a federal judge, acting on a request from The Associated Press, unsealed some of Cosby's startling, decade-old testimony in Constand's related civil suit.
In his testimony, Cosby described sexual encounters with a string of actresses, models and other young women and talked about obtaining quaaludes to give to those he wanted to sleep with.
Cosby's first trial in 2017 ended with a hung jury. He was convicted at a retrial that opened months after the #MeToo movement had taken down such figures as Hollywood studio boss Harvey Weinstein, NBC's Matt Lauer, actor Kevin Spacey and Sen. Al Franken.
"We are the floodgates," said Victoria Valentino, who has accused Cosby of drugging and raping her. "We gave the women who opened their mouths about Harvey Weinstein courage."
Cosby, whose estimated fortune once topped $400 million, broke barriers in the 1960s as the first black actor to star in a network show, "I Spy." He went on to superstardom as wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable on "The Cosby Show," a sitcom that showed America a new kind of black TV family: a warm and loving household led by two professionals, one a lawyer, the other a doctor.
He also found success with his Saturday morning cartoon "Fat Albert," appeared in commercials for Jello-O pudding and became a public moralist, lecturing the black community about young people stealing things and wearing baggy pants. He won a Presidential Medal of Freedom and countless Emmys, Golden Globes and Grammy awards.
As the allegations mounted, his career all but collapsed, "Cosby Show" reruns were taken off the air, and one college after another stripped him of his honorary degrees.
Norristown, Sep 25 (AP/UNB) — Declaring Bill Cosby doesn't deserve a free pass because of his advanced age, prosecutors on Monday asked a judge to sentence the comedian to five to 10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman, while the defense argued that he is too old and helpless to do time behind bars.
"What does an 81-year-old man do in prison?" defense attorney Joseph Green asked on Day 1 of the sentencing hearing for Cosby, who is legally blind and dependent on others. "How does he fight off the people who are trying to extort him, or walk to the mess hall?"
Green suggested that Cosby instead receive something akin to house arrest.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said that he has no doubt Cosby would commit another such offense if given the opportunity, warning that the TV star seemingly gets a sexual thrill out of slipping women drugs and assaulting them.
"So to say that he's too old to do that — to say that he should get a pass, because it's taken this long to catch up to what he's done?" Steele said, his voice rising. "What they're asking for is a 'get out of jail free' card."
And he said the sentence should send a message to others.
"Despite bullying tactics, despite PR teams and other folks trying to change the optics, as one lawyer for the defense put it, the bottom line is that nobody's above the law. Nobody," the district attorney said.
Judge Steven O'Neill is expected to sentence Cosby on Tuesday. The TV star once known as America's Dad for his starring role in "The Cosby Show" could become the first celebrity of the #MeToo era to be sent to prison.
Cosby was convicted in April of violating former Temple University women's basketball administrator Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004.
After testifying for several hours at two trials, the first of which ended in a hung jury, Constand spoke in court Monday for just two minutes.
"The jury heard me. Mr. Cosby heard me. Now all I am asking for is justice as the court sees fit," said Constand, who submitted a much longer victim-impact statement that wasn't read in court.
Steele quoted Constand in her statement as saying that Cosby took "my beautiful, healthy, young spirit and crushed it."
The three charges on which Cosby was convicted carry up to 10 years in prison each, but both sides agreed to merge them together for sentencing because they stemmed from the same encounter. State sentencing guidelines call for about one to four years behind bars on the combined charge.
The judge is also expected to decide whether to declare Cosby a "sexually violent predator" — a scarlet letter that would make him subject to mandatory lifetime counseling and community notification of his whereabouts.
On Monday, Kristen Dudley, a psychologist for the state of Pennsylvania, testified that Cosby fits the criteria for a sexually violent predator, showing signs of a mental disorder that involves an uncontrollable urge to violate helpless women. A psychologist for Cosby's side is set to testify Tuesday.
Cosby's lawyers argued that the state law on classifying sexual predators is unconstitutional. They contended also that Cosby is unlikely to commit another crime because of his age and health and because there have been no complaints that he molested anyone in the 14 years since his encounter with Constand.
"The suggestion that Mr. Cosby is dangerous is not supported by anything other than the frenzy," Green said, alluding to protesters outside the courthouse and public debate about the case.
Constand's mother, Gianna, also took the stand Monday and attributed her health problems to Cosby-related stress. She accused Cosby of "ruining many lives."
"I can only hope and pray that some sense of peace and faith can be restored back on our family," she said. "The victims cannot be un-raped. Unfortunately, all we can do is hold the perpetrator accountable."
Cosby's side didn't call any character witnesses and touched only on his life and fame, noting how he had been poor, dropped out of high school and served in the Navy before soaring to stardom.
He will be given the opportunity to speak in court before he is sentenced.
Monday's proceedings took place as another extraordinary #MeToo drama continued to unfold on Capitol Hill, where Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faces allegations of sexual misconduct from more than three decades ago.
Cosby, looking grim, walked into the courthouse Monday morning on the arm of his longtime spokesman as protesters shouted at him. His wife of 54 years, Camille, was not in court. Several of the jurors who convicted him watched the hearing on a monitor in an overflow courtroom.
Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt told reporters in the afternoon that the entertainer was in "great, great" spirits.
"We tell him to stay strong and stay focused, and he's focused on Mrs. Cosby, and that's what matters in his family," Wyatt said. "He's a great guy. He's still America's Dad, and they won't ever take that away. You can't take away the legacy."
In the years since Constand first went to police in 2005, more than 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, though none of those claims have led to criminal charges. At least two of those women, including former model Janice Dickinson, were in the courtroom for the start of the sentencing.
Prosecutors had hoped to have some of the other accusers address the court at the hearing. But the district attorney's office told The Associated Press that that would not happen.
A few hours before the hearing, Constand tweeted Ephesians 4:26, a Bible verse about letting go of anger: "Be wrathful, but do not sin; do not let the sun set while you are still angry; do not give the Devil an opportunity."
Cosby, who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, became the first black actor to star in a prime-time TV show, "I Spy," in 1965. He remained a Hollywood A-lister for much of the next half-century, hitting his peak in the 1980s with the top-rated "Cosby Show" as the warm, wisecracking dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable.
The AP does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly, which Constand and other accusers have done.