Bill Cosby released from prison, Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacates conviction
After serving nearly three years in prison, former comedian and entertainer Bill Cosby is waking up a free man. Cosby’s freedom came last week after the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court vacated his sexual assault conviction. Cosby was serving a three to 10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.
Hoping for a reversal of his conviction, the 83-year old’s appeal was heard in December before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which agreed to review two aspects of Cosby’s case. The first involved the judge’s decision to let prosecutors call five other accusers. The other examined Cosby’s argument that he had an agreement with a former prosecutor that he would never be charged.
The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crossed the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including showing a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.
Cosby’s lawyers said the trial was flawed because five other accusers were allowed to testify to support the sexual assault complaint filed by a former Temple University basketball team manager. One of his appellate lawyers said prosecutors put on vague evidence about the uncharged conduct, including Cosby’s own recollections in his deposition about giving women alcohol or quaaludes before sexual encounters.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state and this ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.
Flashing a peace sign to a helicopter circling overhead, Cosby was seen walking into his Philadelphia home shortly after his release. In May, Cosby was denied parole after refusing to participate in sex offender programs, resisting the treatment programs, and refusing to acknowledge wrongdoing during his nearly three years in state prison.
Proclaiming his innocence, Cosby had vowed to serve all 10 years of his sentence rather than concede and admit guilt in the encounter with accuser Constand. Cosby and Constand met at Temple where celebrity Cosby served on the board of trustees and was a frequent visitor to the college campus. Cosby had invited Constand to an estate he owns in Pennsylvania the night she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her. A former professional basketball player who worked at his alma mater, Constand went to police a year later. Cosby’s other accusers did not go to police.
Cosby was charged in late 2015 when a new prosecutor used sealed evidence to arrest him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired. To the shock and dismay of many across the country, “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting Constand at his suburban estate.
During Cosby’s first trial, which ended in a deadlock, the trial judge allowed just one other accuser to testify. At the retrial, he allowed five other accusers to testify about their experiences in the 1980s with Cosby. Prosecutors said at the time that Cosby repeatedly used his fame and “family man” persona to manipulate young women, holding himself out as a mentor before betraying them.
Cosby may be free, but the person taking hits about the head and body for supporting him is actress and Howard University Dean of Fine Arts Phylicia Rashad. She finds herself under attack for a tweet she sent out after Cosby was released saying FINALLY!!! A terrible wrong has been righted…”
Like every subject in our country, Cosby has supporters and he has detractors alike who will voice their opinion. Many consider Cosby a sexual deviant who should be locked up. Others believe Cosby was dealt a bad hand by prosecutors who did not honor the agreement he reached years ago prior to giving his deposition. Many straddle the fence and say their thoughts fall into both categories. Regardless of what side you take, Cosby went to jail for a crime and served time to the tune of nearly three years. Even though he was released, he is now considered a sexual predator and will never enjoy the life he once lived. Some say this is not enough, while others say blame the judge and prosecutor for getting this wrong.
Critics of Cosby are bent on attacking someone and Rashad seems to be the most viable option. Some have even gone so far as to suggest she be removed from her position at Howard, while others say we are wrongly subjecting her to hate for expressing an opinion of support for someone she worked with for years.
After hearing from critics, Rashad sent a letter to Howard University students and parents that offered her “most sincere apology,” for her original (and since-deleted) tweet praising Cosby’s release. The statement included the following: “My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence.”
Howard University responded to the controversy by issuing their own statement via twitter. “Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority. While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault. Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies.”
Cosby grew up in public housing in Philadelphia but achieved fame and fortune as a groundbreaking Black actor. During his 50 years in the entertainment industry, Cosby made an estimated $400 million.
His trademark of clean comedy and homespun wisdom fueled popular TV shows, books and standup acts. He fell from favor in his later years as he lectured the Black community about family values but was attempting a comeback when he was arrested.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted in 2020 in N.Y. and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Four other accusers testified in that case of being sexually assaulted by Weinstein. He is now facing separate charges in California.