Bill Cosby was on Wednesday released from prison after his conviction on sexual assault charges was overturned by Pennsylvania’s highest court. The 83-year-old was sentenced in September 2018 to three to 10 years in prison on three counts of aggravated assault for drugging and sexually assaulting former basketball player, Andrea Constand, in his home in 2004.
The comedian and actor’s case was the first high-profile celebrity conviction of the #MeToo era which was initiated to raise awareness of sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the workplace. Cosby also had several other women coming out to accuse him of sexual misconduct going back to almost 30 years. He was only tried criminally for the incident against Constand.
On Wednesday after Cosby’s sexual assault charges were overturned, Constand called the ruling “disappointing.” “Today’s majority decision regarding Bill Cosby is not only disappointing but of concern in that it may discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action,” said Constand, in a shared statement with her attorneys Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz.
She however said she was “grateful to those women who came forward to tell their stories,” adding that, “we urge all victims to have their voices heard.”
Constand was an administrator with the Temple University women’s basketball team when she said Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Elkins Park, Pa., home in 2004. She first reported her case to then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. in 2005. Castor refused to bring criminal charges. However, his successor, Kevin Steele, did file charges against Cosby in 2015, and he was arrested days before the statute of limitations expired.
Castor in an interview with PEOPLE said that he felt he did not have enough evidence in 2005 to win a criminal case. He however said he reached an agreement with Cosby never to prosecute him if Cosby would testify for a deposition in a civil suit that Constand had filed against him. “In that deposition, Cosby admitted that he gave quaaludes to women with whom he wanted to have sex, and also admitted to numerous extramarital affairs. Steele eventually resurfaced that testimony to use against Cosby in the subsequent criminal trial,” PEOPLE reported.
Cosby had served more than two years of his sentence when the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that he had been denied a fair trial in 2018. The judges said there was a “process violation” because Cosby’s lawyers had made an agreement with a previous state prosecutor that he would not be charged in the case.
Constand and her attorney, in their statement, said: “On the one hand, the Court acknowledged that the former District Attorney’s decision not to prosecute Mr. Cosby was not a formal immunity agreement and constituted at best a unilateral exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute at the time, but nevertheless precluded a future prosecution, which included additional evidence developed in the civil case.
“The Supreme Court acknowledged that it was bound by the lower court’s credibility findings, including that Andrea Constand and her civil counsel, Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz, were not privy to any discussions between the former prosecutor and Mr. Cosby or his then criminal counsel, let alone signatories to any agreement of any kind. We were not consulted or asked our thoughts by Mr. Castor concerning any agreements concerning immunity or anything, and we were not made aware if there were any such discussions. The press release had no meaning or significance to us in 2005 other than being a press release circulated by the then District Attorney.”
The court on Wednesday also found that testimony from accusers unrelated to the case had “tainted” the trial. One accuser was called to testify in a first trial, however, five women testified in the second. According to the judges, it was not acceptable to hear testimony from the women who were not directly related to the case.
Constand and her attorney however said in their statement: “We remain grateful to those women who came forward to tell their stories, to D.A. Kevin Steele and the excellent prosecutors who achieved a conviction at trial, despite the ultimate outcome which resulted from a procedural technicality, and we urge all victims to have their voices heard.”