The US state of Pennsylvania highest court on Wednesday overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction after finding a deal with a former prosecutor barred him from being charged in the case.
The court ordered his release from prison.
Cosby served over two years a sentence of three to ten years in a state prison near Philadelphia. He had sworn to serve the 10 years rather than acknowledge his remorse during the 2004 meeting with the accuser Andrea Constand.
Cosby, 83, who was once beloved as “America’s father,” was convicted of drugging and assaulting the Temple University employee in his suburban estate.
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 court of appeal 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 overthrow 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 movie 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.
Weinstein 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.”
Cosby, a revolutionary black actor who grew up in social housing in Philadelphia, made an estimated fortune of $ 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 while teaching the black community on 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.
The AP typically does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission, which Constand granted.