Bill Cosby released as court overturns sexual assault conviction

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Bill Cosby had his sexual assault conviction overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court and released from prison on Wednesday, a dramatic reversal in a case that represented the first full-scale sexual assault trial to unfold in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.

Mr Cosby had served three years of a prison sentence of three to ten years at a maximum security facility outside of Philadelphia when the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Cosby, 83, was denied a fair trial in 2018.

One of Mr. Cosby’s attorneys on appeal, Brian W. Perry, said his client was released from jail shortly after 2 p.m. and was heading to his home in suburban Philadelphia.

The ruling overturned the case against Mr Cosby brought by prosecutors in Pennsylvania that began with his arrest in 2015 for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at her home in suburban Philadelphia eleven years earlier. At the end of the trial in April 2018, the jury convicted Mr Cosby, who for years had illuminated American living rooms as a beloved artist and father figure, of three counts of aggravated indecent assault on Andrea. Constand, to whom Mr. Cosby had been a mentor and who was at the time an employee of Temple University.

The decision overturned the first major criminal conviction of the #MeToo era and came shortly after allegations of sexual assault were leveled against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, sparking a nationwide conversation about misconduct and abuses. sexual assault. Ms Constand praised the guilty verdict at the time, saying “The truth prevails”, and the National Organization for Women described it as “a warning to sexual predators around the world”. But lawyers for Mr Cosby, who said at the time that the allegations against Mr Weinstein would make it difficult for them to get a fair trial, later suggested in an appeal that what they described as a period of “public panic” had influenced the result.

In 2019, a provisional court upheld the trial verdict. But the Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, agreed to consider the case and at a hearing in December some of the court’s seven justices vigorously questioned prosecutors.

In their 79-page opinion, the judges wrote that a “non-prosecution agreement” that had been reached with a former prosecutor meant that Mr Cosby should not have been charged in the case, and that he should be released. They banned a new trial.

In 2005, Mr. Cosby was investigated in Ms. Constand’s case, and a former Montgomery County district attorney had assured Mr. Cosby that he would not be charged in that case. case. Former District Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. said that although there was not enough evidence to initiate criminal proceedings, he had assured Mr Cosby that he would encourage him to testify in a subsequent civil case brought by Ms. Constand.

In this testimony, Mr Cosby admitted to qualifying the women he was pursuing for sexual purposes – evidence that played a key role in his trial after Mr Castor’s successors reopened the case and indicted Mr Cosby in December 2015. The 12-year statute of limitations expired in the case, and he intervened amid a number of new charges by women who bought up similar drug and sexual assault charges against Mr. Cosby.

“In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor prosecutors to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the appeal decision said. “No other finding is consistent with the principles of due process and fundamental fairness to which all aspects of our criminal justice system must adhere.”

Mr. Perry, one of the attorneys representing Mr. Cosby, welcomed the decision.

“We are delighted with the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said. “To be honest with you, we all, collectively, thought this was how the case would end. We didn’t think he was being treated fairly and luckily the Supreme Court accepted.

The ruling overturns a verdict that several women who said they had been assaulted and raped by Mr Cosby then hailed as a long overdue justice measure. In a 2018 victim impact statement, Ms Constand said of Mr Cosby: ‘We may never know the full extent of his double life as a sexual predator, but his reign of terror. decades as a series the rapist is over.

And Janice Dickinson, a former model who told court Mr Cosby raped her in 1982 after giving her a pill – her story was one of five women the prosecution presented among women who said that he drugged and sexually assaulted them – said after the conviction that “My heart is beating in my chest right now”.

“It’s fair and just,” she said in 2018. “I am victorious.”

Ms Constand’s lawyer, Dolores Troiani, declined to comment on Wednesday, saying her legal team is still reviewing the decision.

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