(AP) — Pennsylvania
's highest court overturned Bill Cosby
's sex assault conviction Wednesday, ruling that an agreement with a previous prosecutor barred him from being charged in the case.
Cosby has served more than two years of a three-to-ten-year sentence at a state prison
near Philadelphia, having vowed to serve the entire sentence rather than admit any remorse for the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.
Cosby, 83, was convicted of drugging and molesting a Temple University
employee at his suburban estate.
He was arrested in late 2015, just days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired, by a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby's damaging deposition from her lawsuit
When the jury deadlocked in Cosby's first trial
, the trial judge
allowed only one other accuser to testify; however, he allowed five other accusers to testify about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s
during the retrial.
Even though a lower appeals court had deemed it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women
, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court
ruled that testimony tainted the trial.
Because Cosby was the first celebrity
to be tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, the reversal may make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. However, the law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, and the ruling is only applicable in Pennsylvania.
Prosecutors did not immediately say whether they would file an appeal or seek a new trial for Cosby.
The justices expressed concern not only about sex assault cases, but also about the judiciary's increasing proclivity to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks, despite the fact that the law allows such testimony only in limited circumstances, such as demonstrating a crime
pattern so specific that it can be used to identify the perpetrator.
In New York
, the judge presiding over last year's trial of movie
mogul Harvey Weinstein
, whose case sparked the #MeToo movement's explosion in 2017, allowed four other accusers to testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison, and he is now facing separate charges in California
According to one of Cosby's appellate lawyers, prosecutors used ambiguous evidence about the uncharged conduct, including Cosby's own recollections in his deposition about giving women alcohol or quaaludes before sexual encounters.
“The presumption of innocence simply did not exist for him,” the lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, argued in December before the court.
Cosby was denied parole
in May after refusing to participate in sex offender programs during his nearly three years in state prison; he has long stated that he will resist treatment programs and refuse to admit wrongdoing even if it means serving the full 10-year sentence.
This is the first year he has been eligible for parole under the three- to ten-year sentence he received following his 2018 conviction.
The parole board decision, according to Cosby spokesperson Andrew Wyatt, was "appalling."
Prosecutors claimed Cosby used his celebrity and "family
man" persona to manipulate young women, posing as a mentor before betraying them.
Cosby, a groundbreaking Black
actor who grew up in Philadelphia public housing
, amassed a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50-year career in the entertainment
industry, fueling popular TV shows, books
, and standup acts with his trademark clean comedy
and homespun wisdom.
He fell out of favor in his later years as he lectured the Black community about family values, but he was on the verge of making a comeback when he was arrested.
“There was a built-in level of trust because of his status in the entertainment industry and because he held himself out as a public moralist,” argued Assistant District Attorney
Adrienne Jappe of suburban Montgomery County to the justices.
The night she claimed he drugged and sexually assaulted her, Cosby invited Constand to his Pennsylvania estate.
Constand, a former professional basketball
player who worked at his alma mater, reported Cosby to police
a year later; the other accusers knew Cosby through the entertainment industry and did not report him.
The Associated Press
typically does not identify sexual assault
victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.
Maryclaire Dale can be followed on Twitter