In a stunning judicial reversal, Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction has been overturned by the Pennsylvania supreme court. Pennsylania’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Cosby’s agreement with former prosecutor Bruce Castor in 2005 should have prevented him from being charged again.
“The collective weight of these considerations led D.A. Castor to conclude that, unless Cosby confessed, there was insufficient credible and admissible evidence upon which any charge against Mr. Cosby related to the Constand incident could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,’” according to the decision.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, Cosby was released on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the court’s decision.
Cosby was charged in 2015, convicted in 2018 — and was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for raping Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia home in 2004. He had been arrested just days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired on newly unsealed evidence. At his first trial in 2017, a judge at first allowed only one other accuser to testify, and the jury was not able to reach a verdict.
However, five other accusers were allowed to testify about similar allegations to Constand’s at the 2018 retrial, which resulted in Cosby’s conviction on April 26, 2018. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, however, that the testimony at the trial was tainted, even though a lower court found that he demonstrated a pattern of drugging and molesting women.
The justices were concerned about the increasing trend of testimonies turning into character attacks, as the law only allows testimony in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern that is so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.
Dolores Troiani, who has been Constand’s lawyer for years, responded to a request for comment from Variety, saying that, “At this time Andrea, Bebe and I are still reviewing the decision. We have decided not to make a comment at this time.”
So far, Cosby has served more than two years of his sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He has promised to serve all 10 years instead of acknowledging any remorse over the 2004 sexual assault.
Cosby, 83, a Philadelphia native, previously settled a lawsuit with Constand, a Temple University employee, in 2006 — a sum that was later revealed to be nearly $3.4 million. The settlement came back to haunt him throughout 2014 as dozens of women — some of whom had accused him for years, others of whom were new, such as Janice Dickinson — came forward with allegations of Cosby drugging and raping them.
As the accusations mounted — eventually, there were more than 60 of them — Cosby’s career ended. Earlier in 2014, he had been set to do a Netflix special and was developing a comedy with NBC. That October, a stand-up routine by Hannibal Buress in which he called Cosby a rapist, which he had been doing for months, went viral. Soon after that, the floodgates opened, and in November, Netflix scrapped the special and NBC killed the show.
Constand first went to police in 2005 after the incident. But Castor — who would later be one of President Donald Trump’s lawyers during his second impeachment trial — decided not to charge the famous comedian. However, in 2015, Kevin Steele, the new district attorney of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, had openly criticized how the original case had been handled when he ran for D.A. After he won, Steele kept his word. Cosby was arrested on Dec. 30, 2015, right before the statute of limitations in Constand’s case expired. Because of the time limitations on sexual assault cases, the Constand accusation was the only prosecutable allegations. The earliest public accusations against Cosby date back to the mid-’60s.
In a deposition he gave in Constand’s civil lawsuit, Cosby admitted to giving women Benadryl and quaaludes. “I give her quaaludes. We then have sex,” Cosby said in 2005. The deposition — which was released in 2015 after the Associated Press sued to unseal it — was later used against him at trial.
Cosby’s 2018 conviction was taken as a victory for the #MeToo movement, that the victim-blaming of Cosby’s defense had failed, and that the five other accusers who’d been allowed to testify had helped bring the guilty verdict to bear.
News of his release prompted a flood of public outrage given the weight of the allegations and Cosby’s long history of facing such accusations. The legal maneuvering around Cosby is raising new questions about whether it will have a chilling effect on sexual assault victims coming forward, particularly when the case involves a high-profile figure.
Women in Film Los Angeles was among the many organizations to condemned the news of Cosby’s release.
“Today’s news is a setback in the fight for justice for sexual assault survivors. When the system disregards dozens of accusers in a situation like thi s— because of a technical loophole, not because of the proof that led to sentencing — it creates the perception that it’s “not worth it” for victims to come forward,” WIF said in a statement. “We strongly support all sexual assault survivors hearing this news today. We call on everyone in a position of power in the screen industries to put an end to the culture of silence and acceptance that allowed Cosby to prey on so many women.”
Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who helped kickstart the #MeToo movement with her 2016 sexual harassment against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, called it “a miscarriage of justice.”
At the same time, Phylicia Rashad, Cosby’s former co-star on his smash NBC sitcom that ran from 1984-92, cheered his release, calling it “a miscarriage of justice corrected.”
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