In overturning Bill Cosby’s aggravated assault conviction on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also overturned what had been seen as a decisive victory in the long and difficult battle for dozens of women who accused the comedian of misconduct. .
Sixty women have charged Cosby, 83, with a variety of offenses, including touching, sexual assault and rape as early as the 1960s.
Cosby has repeatedly denied all allegations of non-consensual sex and did so again on Wednesday after being released from prison.
When Cosby was convicted in 2018, activists viewed the jury’s decision as a milestone in the movement to hold suspected sexual predators accountable.
For all but one of Cosby’s accusers, the statute of limitations had passed by the time a deluge of accusers became public in 2014 and 2015. It was Andrea Constand, who accused Cosby of drugging and assaulting her in her house. Pennsylvania home in 2004.
It was less than two weeks before the statute of limitations expired in Constand’s case when Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele filed charges against Cosby. A decade earlier, prosecutors had refused to press charges.
Steele was likely motivated to take the Constand case to justice, despite the difficulties of prosecuting, in part because of the dozens of women who came out against Cosby, NBC News legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
“It was probably seen as an act of symbolic justice,” Cevallos said. “What if they could find someone that could quietly defend or do justice to the women who could never bring a complaint because the status has expired.”
The conviction overturned on Wednesday had nothing to do with the credibility of the women who came forward, Cevallos said, and everything to do with the unique circumstances surrounding the ten-year journey to bring the case to fruition.
The first accusers
Director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball program in 2004, Constand said she was at Cosby’s home to discuss his career when he allegedly drugged and assaulted her.
Constand initially filed a criminal complaint, but authorities at the time said there was not enough evidence to pursue the case. She then filed a civil lawsuit, which Cosby settled with her for nearly $ 3.4 million in 2006.
She told NBC in 2018 that she took Cosby’s pills, believing them to be an herbal supplement because she trusted him.
“Three blue pills. And he stretched out his hand, and I said, “What is it?” And he said, “They’ll help you relax,” Constand said. “And I said, ‘Are they natural? Are they, like, an herbal remedy? And he said, ‘No, they’re your friends. Just put them down. ‘”
Unsealed depositions from the civil case revealed Cosby said he gave quaaludes, a strong sedative, to young women he wanted to have sex with.
California lawyer Tamara Green showed up in 2005 with a similar story, telling NBC’s “TODAY” that Constand’s allegations reflected her experience with Cosby in the 1970s. Green said she was in. a working lunch with Cosby in Los Angeles with the flu and he offered her some medicine after noting that she looked feverish.
She said she started to lose her motor skills and Cosby took her to his apartment, where Green claims he started stripping her clothes and molesting her.
“The center of my being understood that it had gone from helping me fiddle and kissing and touching and manipulating me and you know, undressing me,” Green said.
But she fired back, telling Cosby that he should kill her and that any plan to rape her would go “wrong,” according to Green.
“So you know I guess it was awkward at the time I hadn’t been successfully crushed in the bid and he left two $ 100 bills on my coffee table and he left my apartment “Green said.
Thirteen women agreed to testify anonymously in court in the Constand case, but were told they were no longer needed once the couple settled in.
A wave of new allegations
In the years since the settlement, Cosby took a step back from comedy but produced a show where he interviewed children in 2010 and appeared in documentaries and talk shows over the years.
Then comedian Hannibal Burress arrived.
Burress called Cosby a rapist during a filming at a Philadelphia comedy club in 2014, telling the audience about the 13 women who were ready to charge Cosby with misconduct in court during Constand’s trial.
“It’s upsetting. If you didn’t know, trust me,” Burress said on stage. “You go out of here and google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That’s not funny, this shit has more results than Hannibal Buress.
The comment made headlines, and a few weeks later the Washington Post ran an op-ed by Barbara Bowman titled “Bill Cosby Raped Me.” Why did it take 30 years for people to believe my story? “
Bowman said she called Constand’s attorney to present her allegations for the trial and spoke to the press, becoming one of Cosby’s first public accusers. She told NBC’s “Dateline” in 2018 that she was invited to a screenwriting session at Cosby’s home in New York City in the 1980s as a theater student and was sure she was. drugged and raped there.
“I took a few sips of my wine and ended up upstairs not feeling well,” Bowman said. “I remember leaning over the toilet bowl, throwing up my guts, and I’m wearing a men’s white t-shirt that wasn’t mine. I’m in my panties, it’s a wreck.
Bowman said at the time that Cosby told him she got drunk and he needed to wash her clothes. She felt like she had had a “lobotomy,” she said.
“How don’t you know? I didn’t show up in a men’s t-shirt, didn’t show up with soiled panties, and I didn’t show up scratched, bruised and dirty, ”Bowman said. “I knew I had been raped.
Bowman did not go to the police, but did tell her agent, who she said told her no one would believe her. She told “Dateline” that she had seen Cosby several times after this incident and that he allegedly raped her several times.
In an essay for Vanity Fair in December 2014, model Beverly Johnson alleged that Cosby lured her into his home in the mid-1980s and drugged her. Johnson wrote that she realized almost immediately after drinking her drink that Cosby had “drugged her”.
“He put his hands around my waist and I managed to put my hand on his shoulder to stabilize myself,” Johnson wrote. “As I felt my body go completely limp, my brain went into automatic survival mode. It meant making sure Cosby understood that I knew exactly what was going on at the time.”
Dozens of women came forward to accuse the comedian of sexual misconduct in 2014 and 2015, causing another media storm just a few years before the #MeToo movement.
Cosby has repeatedly denied all the allegations.
An old business with new burdens
In December 2015, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had filed an aggravated indecent assault charge against Cosby in the Constand case. The move came just over a year after Burress’s show in Philadelphia, but days before Pennsylvania’s 12-year statute of limitations expired.
It took almost three years and two trials to convict Cosby. His first trial in 2017 was overturned after a deadlocked jury, arriving by bus from Pittsburgh, could not rule. Many of the concerns that prevented former District Attorney Bruce Castor from filing a complaint in 2005 were exposed in court, including the fact that it took Constand a year to speak to authorities about the allegations and the lack of physical evidence. .
One of the jurors told NBC affiliate WPXI the case was “hopeless” and the jurors were in tears trying to make a decision.
Steele immediately announced that he would retry Cosby for three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Constand and other women testified in court, which led to a conviction in 2018.
Cosby was sentenced to three to ten years in prison, which accusers saw as a victory despite the long and difficult road to getting there.
Constand said reliving the assault in court and the criticisms that followed left her “traumatized again”.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cosby’s appeal on Wednesday based on Castor’s termination. The court cited Castor’s decision not to prosecute Cosby in 2005 in an attempt to force Cosby to testify in the Constand civil case, saying it forced Cosby to waive his Fifth Amendment right not to be incriminate.
Castor testified to his intention that a civil case would be better for Constand, but Cosby’s depositions were later used in his trial. These depositions included Cosby’s confession that he had given Constand Benadryl at his home, which he had previously given to women he wanted to sleep with strong sedatives, and that it would be bad for him if the public believed he had drugged and assaulted Constand.
“When a decision to unconditional indictment is made publicly and with the intention of inducing the defendant to act and trust it, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some cases on the advice of the defendant) ‘a lawyer), denying the defendant the benefit of this decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, ”according to the High Court opinion drafted by Judge David Wecht.
“For these reasons, Cosby’s convictions and sentence are set aside and he is released.”
In a concurring and dissenting opinion, Judge Kevin Dougherty agreed that due process does not allow prosecutors to engage in “that kind of coercive bait and exchange” to go after Cosby, but does disagreed with the decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction and not allow him to be tried again on the charge.
Rather, Dougherty offered a precedent to suggest that the court should have allowed the evidence to be suppressed in a new trial.
“Here, although Cosby detrimentally relied on Castor’s incitement, we can return him to the position he held before he was forced to relinquish his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by simply suppressing evidence derived from the civil depositions to which he testified, “Dougherty wrote. “We shouldn’t use Castor’s ‘blunder’ to put Cosby in a better position than he otherwise would have been by forbidding his pursuit forever.”