Cosby conviction overturned: Ruling sparks outrage, relief from activists and celebrities

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Bill Cosby gestures as he approaches members of the media gathered outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., following his release from prison Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

PENNSYLVANIA (NewsNation Now) – Prominent activists in the #MeToo movement, the White House, and even his former “Cosby Show” star Phylicia Rashad have issued reactions to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturning Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault.

Cosby has served more than two years of a three-to-10-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.

The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.

He was arrested in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — filed charges days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.

As Cosby was set free from the state prison in suburban Montgomery County, his appeals lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said Cosby “should never have been prosecuted for these offenses.”

“District attorneys can’t change it up simply because of their political motivation.,” she said, adding Cosby remains in excellent health, apart from being legally blind.

Bill Cosby gestures as he approaches members of the media gathered outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., following his release from prison Wednesday, June 30, 2021, after Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned his sex assault conviction. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In a statement, District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, said Cosby went free “on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime.” He commended Constand for coming forward and added: “My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. … We still believe that no one is above the law — including those who are rich, famous and powerful.”

Cosby Accuser Victoria Valentino told ABC News that she was in “absolute shock” over the decision to overturn his conviction.

“My stomach is lurching and I am deeply distressed about the injustice of the whole thing,” she said in a phone interview.

Lisa Bloom, who represents three of the women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, expressed her and her clients’ outrage at the court opinion, “He is not released because he is innocent. He is released because a prosecutor promised him years ago that he would not be brought to justice, without even making a deal for him to do time.”

Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the former district attorney’s decision not to charge him when the comedian gave his potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil case.

The court called Cosby’s arrest “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.”

The justices said that 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.”

“I am furious to hear this news,” actor Amber Tamblyn, a founder of Time’s Up, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault, said in a Twitter post. “I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision.”

E. Jean Carroll, a well known MeToo advocate who accused former President Donald Trump of sexually assaulting her, said in a tweet that this is why women don’t come forward.

His “Cosby Show” co-star Phylicia Rashad, who had not issued many public statements on Cosby’s behalf during his trial, tweeted, “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”

The White House weighed in during the daily press briefing with the Press Secretary stating, “I don’t have a direct response from the WH. The president has long been an advocate for fighting against violence against women and for raising voices of survivors.”

Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior “bad acts” testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors did not immediately say if they would appeal or seek to try Cosby for a third time.

A Cosby spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Nor did a Steele representative, Constand or her lawyer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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