Cosby was released from Phoenix state prison outside Philadelphia, where he’s been serving a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state violated his rights when it failed to follow through on an agreement not to prosecute him. The court said Cosby, 83, can’t be retried on the charges.
“There is only one remedy that can completely restore Cosby to the status quo ante,” Justice David Wecht wrote for a majority of the court. “He must be discharged, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be barred. We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But it is warranted here, indeed compelled.”
The court faulted the district attorney’s office, which had said it wouldn’t prosecute Cosby for the sexual assault of Andrea Constand. Constand, 37 years his junior, claimed the entertainer had attacked her at his home in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. With prosecution ruled out, Cosby was forced to give testimony in Constand’s civil suit, without the risk his statements could be used against him criminally.
But the office later decided to prosecute Cosby, and his statements from the civil suit were used against him at trial. The court ruled on Wednesday that the initial decision not to prosecute Cosby, which forced his testimony in the civil suit, was binding on Pennsylvania.
“He was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime,” Kevin R. Steele, district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “I want to commend Cosby’s victim Andrea Constand for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, as well as all of the other women who have shared similar experiences.”
Andrew Wyatt, who has identified himself as a representative for Cosby, didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The case was the first time Cosby had faced a criminal charge after years of complaints from dozens of women who said he had drugged and assaulted them. Cosby, formerly a successful comedian and actor, is best known for playing Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the family-friendly television hit “The Cosby Show” for eight seasons beginning in 1984. The myriad assault allegations led to the cancellation of some of Cosby’s one-man shows, stopped the development of a TV project and resulted in his resignation from the board of trustees of Temple University.
Constand met Cosby through the basketball department at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she was the director of operations for the women’s team, and came to think of him a mentor and a friend, according to prosecutors. She reported his alleged attack on her in January 2005, almost a year later. The initial investigation resulted in no criminal charges. The probe was reopened after a federal judge unsealed court papers in Constand’s civil suit, which was filed in March 2005 and settled in 2006.
The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Cosby, J-100-2020, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
–With assistance from Kelly Gilblom and Bre Bradham.