Convicted sex offender Bill Cosby is being released from prison, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction for sex assault. The 83-year-old comedian and actor, once known as “America’s Dad,” has been accused of sexual assault by 60 women in incidents stretching back to the mid ‘60s. In 2015 criminal charges were filed over an incident involving Andrea Constand, an employee of Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University. Cosby was found guilty in 2018 and handed a three-to-10 year sentence, which he has served over two years of so far. Today’s ruling overturns that conviction, and will lead to Cosby’s imminent release.
The Court found that Cosby had a “non-prosecution agreement” with an earlier prosecutor in the case that should have prevented him from being charged. The Court also found that allowing additional accusers to testify about Cosby’s alleged attacks on them tainted the trial.
Although allegations against Cosby first became public in the ‘00s, and Constand filed a civil suit against Cosby in 2005 that was settled in 2006, Cosby’s history of sexual abuse didn’t become a major story with a lasting impact upon his life or career until a stand-up set by Hannibal Buress revived the allegations in late 2014. Dozens of women came forward with their own stories of being drugged and molested by the comedian in the months that followed, and at the end of 2015, shortly before the statute of limitations would have expired, a Pennsylvania prosecutor filed criminal charges over the Constand case. Cosby’s criminal charges preceded the #MeToo movement by a couple of years but also helped to jumpstart it, showing that, despite their wealth, fame and power, celebrity sex offenders could actually be held legally accountable for their alleged crimes. Hopefully today’s ruling doesn’t jeopardize similar cases against other alleged abusers.
Despite acknowledging in a 2005 deposition that he had given drugs to women who he then had sexual relations with, Cosby has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing on his part, and has refused to participate in the training sessions and programs that are a requirement for parole. From the start his response to the accusations was to deny everything. Today’s ruling doesn’t find Cosby innocent; it just overturns the conviction handed down in 2018. The Supreme Court also barred a retrial, though, so this could bring an end to the legal case against Cosby. It’s a worrisome setback for victims of sexual abuse and the legal efforts to hold abusers accountable.