After serving three years of a three- to ten-year prison sentence on charges of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, Bill Cosby went free on Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated his 2018 conviction, saying the man formerly known as “America’s Dad” had not received a fair trial.
A jury convicted Cosby, 83, on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Constand—one of more than 50 women who have accused him of assaulting them—marking the first major courtroom victory for the burgeoning #MeToo movement, but the seven-member Supreme Court found that Cosby had been deprived of his rights in that trial.
The justices not only overturned Cosby’s conviction, they barred him from ever being retried on those charges.
As the New York Times reports, at issue was a “non-prosecution agreement” Cosby made in 2005 with then-district attorney of Montgomery County, Bruce Castor Jr., when Constand’s claims were first being investigated. Under the deal, Castor agreed not to prosecute Cosby in order to encourage him to testify in a civil case brought against him by Constand, at the time a Temple University employee who said she revered Cosby as a mentor.
Castor—who you may remember as Donald Trump’s defense lawyer from his record-breaking second impeachment—has testified that he didn’t think he had enough evidence at the time to make criminal charges stick, but in 2015, with just days before the 12-year statute of limitations was to expire, his successors filed charges against Cosby.
In that case, prosecutors used Cosby’s previous testimony, in which he admitted he’d given quaaludes to women he was trying to have sex with.
“In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the ruling states. “No other conclusion comports with the principles of due process and fundamental fairness to which all aspects of our criminal justice system must adhere.”
Prosecutors on Wednesday said the ruling was based on a procedural issue “irrelevant to the facts of the crime.”
“I want to commend Cosby’s victim Andrea Constand for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, as well as all of the other women who have shared similar experiences,” District Attorney Kevin Steele said. “My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads. We still believe that no one is above the law—including those who are rich, famous, and powerful.”
Meanwhile, Phylicia Rashad—recently named dean of Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts—celebrated her former co-star’s release, tweeting, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”
FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected! pic.twitter.com/NrGUdwr23c
— Phylicia Rashad (@PhyliciaRashad) June 30, 2021
This was not a popular opinion Wednesday among Rashad’s (former) fans.
Nor anywhere else, really.
“I am furious to hear this news,” Amber Tamblyn wrote on Twitter. “I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision.”
#MeToo pioneer Rose McGowan tweeted, “I stand with all of Bill Cosby’s accusers on this dark day.”
And former California congress member Katie Hill, who’s faced an uphill battle in her legal crusade against revenge porn, wrote, “On today’s episode of ‘How the Justice System Fails Victims’: Bill Cosby is released on a technicality.”
Lisa Bloom, who represents three of Cosby’s accusers—including supermodel Janice Dickinson—said, “The three Bill Cosby accusers I represent and I are disgusted that he is a free man today. He is not released because he is innocent.”
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