Bill Cosby has been freed from prison after his sex assault conviction was overturned by the highest court in the state of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday the court found an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.
A frail-looking Cosby was cheered by supporters as he stepped out with his legal team to address reporters outside his home in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.
The 83-year-old entertainer has served more than two years of a three to ten-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia.
He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.
"We are thrilled to have Mr. Cosby home. He served three years of an unjust sentence and he did it with dignity and principle and he was a mentor to other inmates," Cosby's lawyer Jennifer Bonjean told reporters.
But another lawyer who has worked with more than 30 Cosby accusers said they would "not be deterred" following his release.
Gloria Allred is currently representing Janice Bakker-Kinney, one of the women who testified at Cosby's sexual assault retrial about her experience with the comedian and actor.
"I do believe that this was a very important fight for justice, and even though the court did overturn the conviction, it was on technical grounds," Allred said.
"It did not vindicate Bill Cosby's conduct and it should not be interpreted as a statement or a finding that he did not engage in the acts of which he has been accused."
Court focuses on 'promise not to charge Cosby'
Cosby was charged in late 2015 when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from Constand’s lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
The court said that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in Constand's civil suit.
There was no evidence that promise was ever put in writing.
The judge at court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday said Cosby had relied on the former prosecutor’s decision not to charge him when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in the civil suit.
Overturning the conviction, and barring any further prosecution, “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system,” the court decided.
Cosby was convicted of drugging and molesting Constand. At the trial, the judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify about Cosby, but at a retrial, five others were allowed to testify about their experiences with him in the 1980s.
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.
'Concern for survivors' after conviction overturned
#MeToo activist Tarana Burke says she's concerned about how the social media response to Bill Cosby's release from prison Wednesday impacts sexual assault survivors.
"It was definitely shock first, and I think as the shock settled in and I started seeing some of the commentary coming in ... It was just real concern for survivors, who are going to have a hard time sleeping tonight. Who are going to have a hard time being on social media, going to the places where they find some comfort and really finding just mass betrayal," Burke said in an interview.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era.
In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify.
Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.
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 the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it means serving the full 10-year sentence.
Cosby, a groundbreaking Black actor who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, made a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry.
His trademark clean comedy and homespun wisdom fueled popular TV shows, books and stand up acts.
The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.