PHILADELPHIA (CBS / AP) – Bill Cosby was released from prison after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sexual assault conviction on Wednesday. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said it reached an agreement with a former prosecutor that prevented him from being charged in the case.
The country watched – some applauding, some dismayed – as Cosby was shackled and taken to jail more than two years ago. This afternoon alone, he was released from Phoenix State Correctional Facility with little fanfare
Cosby served more than two years of a three- to ten-year sentence in a state prison near Philadelphia. He had sworn to serve the 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 meeting with accuser Andrea Constand.
The court’s opinions shed light on a press release issued by former District Attorney Bruce Castor over 15 years ago. The document essentially promised that Cosby would not be prosecuted.
Years later, Cosby then testified in a deposition and did not take the Fifth Amendment. He made incriminating statements, and those statements became the basis for the prosecution of Cosby in relation to Constand’s aggravated indecent assault.
Legal experts say the charge was essentially a breach of a written contract between the DA’s office and Cosby.
The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office released a statement about Cosby’s release:
The majority decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania orders the release of William H. Cosby Jr. from state prison. He was convicted by a jury and is now free on a procedural matter unrelated to the facts of the crime. I want to congratulate Cosby’s victim, Andrea Constand, for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, as well as all the other women who have gone through similar experiences. I hope this decision will not hinder the reporting of sexual assault by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow evidence where and to whom it leads. We always believe that no one is above the law, including those who are rich, famous and powerful.
Cosby, 83, who was once beloved as “America’s father,” was convicted of drugging and assaulting Constand in his suburban estate.
Constand and his legal counsel released a statement on the court ruling on Wednesday evening.
“Today’s majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but concerning in that it may discourage those seeking justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the perpetrator. or may force a victim to choose between filing either criminal or civil action.
On the one hand, the Court recognized that the former District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Mr Cosby was not a formal immunity agreement and was at best a unilateral exercise of the prosecutor’s discretion not to prosecute. not sue at the time, but nevertheless ruled out a future prosecution, which included additional evidence developed in the civil case. the Supreme Court acknowledged that it was bound by the lower court’s credibility findings, including the fact that Andrea Constand and her civilian lawyer, Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz, were unaware of any discussions between the ‘former prosecutor and Mr Cosby or his criminal lawyer at the time, not to mention the signatories of any agreement of any kind. We were not consulted or questioned by Mr. Castor regarding any immunity agreements or anything, and we were not informed if there had been any such discussions. The press release had no meaning or significance to us in 2005 other than a press release issued by the then prosecutor.
Once again, we are grateful to the women who have stepped forward to brief their stores, prosecutor Kevin Steele and the excellent prosecutors who secured a conviction at trial, despite the end result of procedural technicality, and we urge all victims to have their voices heard. We do not intend to make any further comments.
In the opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the judges “do not question the discretion of prosecutors’ as to whether charges should be laid in a given case,” but rather the court considered whether the prosecution took place within the limits of due process.
Legal experts say the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion reveals parts of Cosby’s charge were based on a legal house of cards. Prosecutors who have twice brought the legendary comedian and actor to justice have said the move was an unfortunate technicality.
Cosby tweeted a statement, maintaining his innocence and thanking his supporters.
“I never changed my position or my story. I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who supported me in this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law, ”he tweeted.
Cosby’s return to his Elkins Park home was informal in many ways, but inspired enthusiasts for and against the comedian to tour the property.
In a T-shirt ode to his Philadelphia high school, Central graduate Cosby returned from prison, ceding comments to his lawyers and representative.
“He said that they were ringing in his cell, that they were just knocking on the walls of the inmates, they said ‘you’re free! Get up! Get up.’ And he was so excited, ”spokesman Andrew Wyatt said.
Nearly 60 women have accused Cosby of sexual assault. Lawyer Gloria Allred has represented several of the women and says her heart breaks for them.
Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show, took to social media after hearing the news that Cosby would be posted.
“FINALLY !!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected,” Rashad tweeted.
FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected! pic.twitter.com/NrGUdwr23c
– Phylicia Rashad (@PhyliciaRashad) June 30, 2021
He was charged in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence – Cosby’s prejudicial deposition from his trial – arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
The trial judge had allowed only one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial, when the jury found itself at a standstill. However, he then allowed five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the testimony marred the trial, even though a lower appeals court found it appropriate to show a characteristic pattern of drugs and assault on women.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and sentenced in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. However, the law on testifying to prior bad acts varies by state, and the ruling only applies to Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they would appeal or seek trial Cosby a third time.
The judges expressed concern not only about the sexual assault cases, but also what they saw as the growing tendency of the judiciary to allow testimony that goes beyond the limits of attacks on personality. The law allows testimony only in limited cases, especially to show a criminal pattern so specific that it serves to identify the perpetrator.
In New York, the judge who presided over the trial of film mogul Harvey Weinstein last year, whose case sparked the #MeToo movement in 2017, has allowed four other accusers to testify. Weinstein was found guilty and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He now faces separate charges in California.
In Cosby’s case, one of his appeal attorneys said prosecutors presented vague evidence of the uncharged conduct, including Cosby’s own recollections of his testimony about giving alcohol or quaaludes to women before sex.
“The presumption of innocence simply did not exist for him,” Jennifer Bonjean, the lawyer, said in court in December.
In May, Cosby was denied parole after refusing to participate in sex offender programs during his nearly three years in state prison. He has long said he would resist treatment programs and refuse to admit wrongdoing even if it means serving the 10-year sentence.
This is the first year he was eligible for parole under the three to 10 year sentence after his conviction in 2018.
Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt called the parole board’s decision “appalling.”
Prosecutors said Cosby had repeatedly used his fame and ‘family man’ character to manipulate young women, posing as a mentor before betraying them.
Cosby, a revolutionary black actor who grew up in social housing in Philadelphia, made his fortune estimated at $ 400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry. His clean comedy and house wisdom have fueled popular TV shows, books, and stand-up acts.
He fell out of favor in his later years as he lectured the black community about family values, but was attempting a comeback when he was arrested.
“There was a level of inherent confidence because of his status in the entertainment industry and because he portrayed himself as a public moralist,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe, of suburban Montgomery County, told the judges.
Cosby had invited Constand to an estate he owns in Pennsylvania the night she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked in his alma mater, surrendered to the police a year later. The other accusers knew Cosby through the entertainment industry and did not go to the police.
Joe Holden, Natasha Brown and Alexandria Hoff of CBS3 contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.