by The Chicago Times Staff

June 30, 2021

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned comedian Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction and released ordered his release from prison this Wednesday.  The ruling was based on the prosecutions failure to uphold an agreement made with the previous prosecutor not to charge Cosby.

Cosby, 83, has returned to his suburban Philadelphia home after serving 3 years of a 3 to 10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.

Cosby, once heralded as “America’s Dad” for his role in the “Cosby Show” was the first celebrity convicted under the #MeToo movement.

In a statement, Cosby’s victim Constand and her lawyers called the ruling very disappointing and hope it does not discourage other victims of sexual assault from coming forward.

Cosby was arrested in 2015, just days before the 12-year statute of limitations was set to expire, when a district attorney, armed with newly unsealed evidence — the comic’s devastating deposition in a lawsuit brought by Constand — filed charges against him.

However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who took the decision to arrest Cosby, was bound by his predecessor’s commitment not to charge him, despite the lack of proof that such an agreement was ever written down. Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the previous district attorney’s decision not to charge him when the comedian gave his potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil case.

Cosby’s subsequent arrest, the court said, was “an affront to fundamental fairness,” especially because it resulted in a criminal prosecution that had been avoided for more than a decade.

It stated that justice, “fairness, and decency” demand that the district attorney’s office uphold the prior DA’s ruling. The justices said that overturning the conviction and barring any further prosecution “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”

The majority of the Supreme Court justices found in Cosby’s favor, while three others dissented in whole or in part. Peter Goldberger, a suburban Philadelphia lawyer with an expertise in criminal appeals, said prosecutors could ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for re-argument or reconsideration, but it would be a very long shot.

The trial judge proclaimed Cosby a sexually violent predator who could not be safely permitted out in public and had to report to authorities for the rest of his life when he was sentenced. In May, Cosby was denied parole after refusing to participate in sex offender programs behind bars. He said he would resist the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it meant serving the full 10 years.

Cosby grew up in Philadelphia’s public housing and amassed a fortune of $400 million over the course of his 50-year career in the entertainment industry, which included roles on the TV shows “I Spy,” “The Cosby Show,” and “Fat Albert,” as well as comedy albums and a slew of television commercials.

Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, the suburban Philadelphia prosecutor who first looked into Constand’s charges, thought the case was weak since Constand waited a year to come forward and remained in contact with Cosby afterward.

Castor chose not to prosecute and instead advised Constand to file a lawsuit for damages.

Cosby admitted to offering quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with when questioned under oath as part of that lawsuit.  He eventually reached a $3.4 million settlement with Constand.

Portions of the deposition were made public and more than 60 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of sexual misconduct.