(A screenshot from MSNBC)

Breanna Reeves | Black Voice News

Bill Cosby was released from prison on Wednesday after a Pennsylvania State Supreme Court vacated his sexual assault conviction and judgment of sentence. One of the few high-profile cases during the #MeToo Movement by which sexual assault survivors have taken steps to name their attackers, this verdict was met with an array of reactions from survivors and supporters of Cosby.

A screenshot of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in the ruling of Bill Cosby.

“I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence,” Cosby tweeted on Wednesday after his release. “Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law. #BillCosby.”

The court ruled that Cosby, 83, had been denied a fair trial and that any charges brought violated his due-process rights. The court ruling also referenced a 2005 agreement outlined by previous Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor (Trump’s former impeachment attorney). In 2005 Castor published a press release citing “insufficient, credible and admissible evidence exists upon which any charge against Mr. Cosby could be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

Current District Attorney Kevin Steele, who arrested Cosby in 2018, stated he was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby. The ruling does not confirm or deny Cosby’s innocence nor does it confirm or deny that the accused was not telling the truth. Part of Castor’s refusal to pursue a case against Cosby was because the sexual assault was reported a year after it occurred.

According to the ruling delivered by Justice David N. Wecht, “[Cosby] 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.” Cosby cannot be retried on criminal charges. Four judges represented the majority that ruled in Cosby’s favor, while three others dissented.

Dissenting Opinion

“I respectfully disagree with the majority’s determination that the press release issued by former District Attorney Bruce Castor contained an unconditional promise that the Commonwealth would not prosecute Appellant (Bill Cosby) in perpetuity,” Justice Thomas Saylor said in his dissenting opinion. 

Cosby served three of his 10-year sentences in a maximum security prison outside of Philadelphia. Cosby was initially charged and sentenced in 2018 for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in his home in Philadelphia in 2004.

In 2015 New York magazine published a portrait of 35 women who accused Cosby of sexual assault. 

A Range of Reactions

When Cosby was convicted in 2018, lawyer Gloria Allred, who had been contacted by alleged victims of Cosby, said she was shocked by the verdict.

“I was very pleasantly surprised with the guilty verdict. Shocked, actually, because I have been practicing for 42 years and it has become so normal for women not to be believed when they allege they were assaulted, particularly by a rich, famous, powerful celebrity,” Allred explained in an editorial published in The Guardian in 2018.

Cosby’s conviction was rare, but marked an important decision and moment in the #MeToo Movement during a time in which other high-profile men were facing charges such as Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein.

“The three Bill Cosby accusers I represent and I are disgusted that he is a free man today. He is not released because he is innocent,” Lisa Bloom, lawyer and daughter of Allred, tweeted. “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.”

Long-time friends and supporters of Cosby expressed victory at the verdict, including Cosby’s on-screen wife from “The Cosby Show,” Phylicia Rashad.

A screenshot from Phylicia Rashad’s official Twitter account.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments, or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via Twitter @_breereeves.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America...