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Bill Cosby was released from prison Wednesday after his conviction for sexual assault was thrown out by Pennsylvania’s highest court.
Many were stunned by the decision, including Cosby’s spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, who told Insider, “This is amazing news. We’re excited and we want to thank the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”
In 2018, the 83-year-old comedian was convicted in the 2004 drugging and sexual assault of former Temple University employee, Andrea Constand. Cosby, who denied having sexual intercourse with Constand, served two years of a 10-year prison sentence.
On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled that Cosby was denied a fair trial and that the actor’s rights were violated when he was told testimony in an earlier civil lawsuit filed by Constand wouldn’t be used to prosecute him. It later was.
The ruling came because of a previous deal Cosby made in 2005 with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, who also served as Trump’s impeachment lawyer this year.
Under the terms the 2005 deal, Castor asked Cosby to testify in a civil lawsuit filed by Constand in exchange for avoiding prosecution. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court found that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who arrested Cosby, should have followed his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby.
The justices ruled 6-1 that Cosby was “operating under the reasonable belief” that he faced no risk of prosecution from Castor and so his 2018 conviction should be tossed out.
Under this ruling, the case cannot be retried and Cosby cannot face trial again on these charges. (You can read the court’s full 79-page ruling here.)
Steele slammed the court’s decision in a statement provided to Insider, reiterating that Cosby “was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime.”
“Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads. We still believe that no one is above the law—including those who are rich, famous and powerful,” Steele added in part.
Attorney Eric D. Anderson, a senior trial counsel for Early Sullivan Wright & McRae, told Insider he “was not a bit surprised” by Wednesday’s ruling because of a variety of issues that Anderson said were a problem for the prosecution’s case, including Cosby’s inability to invoke his fifth amendment rights.
“[Cosby] was compelled to have to talk,” said Anderson of the 2005 civil suit. “Once that happens you’ve got a violation. They needed to abide by that promise and completely ignoring it the way they did, that was a big problem.”
“Cosby, if he thought there was the possibility of being, no matter how remote, of being prosecuted, could have invoked his fifth [amendment rights] and therefore not testified,” Anderson added. “That is why this is not a technicality. You take away someone’s fifth amendment privilege, you’ve taken away a fundamental right that goes all the way back to Magna Carta.”
Anderson added that Wednesday’s ruling was not based on whether or not Cosby is guilty.
“I think that the confusion that’s happening with some people here is they think that [Cosby’s] been vindicated as a person and that’s not the issue.” Anderson said. “The state has to abide by its own rules. If it doesn’t, it becomes too easy to start locking up innocent people.”
Accusations against “The Cosby Show” star resurfaced in 2014 after a video clip of comedian Hannibal Burress went viral in which he told an audience that Cosby was a “rapist.”
Within two years, more than 50 women came forward to accuse Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them.
NBC’s Kate Snow said none of Cosby accusers who she’s stayed in touch with since the original 2018 conviction saw his release coming.
“The sense was that this was an appeal that would fail,” Snow told NBC’s Lester Holt on live TV Wednesday.
Eden Tirl, one of Cosby’s accusers, said in a texted statement to NBC that “from the very beginning, the rigid constructs of the statute of limitations did not provide protection or a pathway for justice for the women who came out against Cosby. The outdated laws are so clearly in play, protecting men in these cases more often than not.”
Anderson said while Cosby could now sue the state of Pennsylvania for breaking its deal with him or sue Constrand for breach of confidentiality agreement, he doesn’t see why he would do it.
“What are you going to get out of this?” Anderson said, adding that he can’t see a way that Cosby can salvage his reputation anymore.
“I don’t see anything that he can do besides taking the win, walk away, and call it a day,” Anderson said.