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Bill Cosby Is Released From Prison After Court Overturns Sexual Assault Conviction

Comedian Bill Cosby has been released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has vacated the indecent assault conviction against him.

The court’s decision upends the long-running legal battle against the once-beloved actor, whose conviction marked a major milestone in the #MeToo movement after he was accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women stretching back decades.

In an opinion issued Wednesday, the court found that Cosby’s due process rights were violated when he was charged for a 2004 assault after prosecutors previously told the comedian they wouldn’t bring criminal charges against him.

Cosby, 83, has served two years of a three to 10 year sentence. He has been incarcerated at SCI Phoenix, a maximum security prison in Montgomery County.

He was released just before 2:30pm local time, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections spokesperson Maria Bivens confirmed to NPR.

In April 2018, Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in Cheltenham, outside Philadelphia.

Constand, who had been working for the women’s basketball team at Temple University, also settled her civil suit with Cosby for $3.38 million.

In December 2019, Cosby lost an appeal of his sexual assault conviction.

An apparent prosecutor’s promise is central to this controversy

The Pennsylvania high court’s opinion centered around former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor’s assurance to Cosby in 2005 that he would not be charged for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand.

Any agreement between Castor and Cosby was never put into writing, the justices say.

The opinion states that Castor thought a criminal prosecution could be difficult, partly because Constand did not immediately file a complaint against Cosby. The opinion says he was also concerned about a lack of forensic evidence, and declined to prosecute the comedian.

Castor said at the time that Constand’s best chance at justice for her assault was a civil lawsuit, and if Cosby knew he would not face criminal charges, then he couldn’t invoke his Fifth Amendment right in the civil action.

Cosby provided four depositions in which he made “several incriminating statements,” according to the opinion.

“The end result was exactly what D.A. Castor intended: Cosby gave up his rights, and Constand received significant financial relief,” the court wrote. “Cosby was compelled to give inculpatory evidence that led ultimately to a multimillion dollar settlement.”

Years later, when succeeding prosecutors reopened the criminal case and filed criminal charges against Cosby, the depositions under oath were used against him at his trial.

The justices described the about-face as “an affront to fundamental fairness,” saying “no mere changing of the guard strips that circumstance of its inequity.”

The justices did not all agree on this matter. Three joined in the opinion, and the three remaining justices filed two separate opinions.

For example, in his dissent, Justice Thomas Saylor noted that a lower court made an “explicit finding Castor made no promise that the Commonwealth would never prosecute.” He questioned whether the available evidence really shows that such a promise was made.

The Montgomery County District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Copyright 2021 NPR.

Copyright 2021 KQED