criminal justice Julia Conley Justice Rights

Advocates Stand With Bill Cosby’s 60 Accusers After Sexual Assault Conviction Overturned

The justices at Pennsylvania's Supreme Court also ruled out the possibility that Cosby could be retried in that state.
Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby makes a public appearance in 2011. (The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia / Wikimedia Commons)

By Julia Conley / Common Dreams

Women’s rights advocates expressed solidarity on Wednesday with the 60 women who came forward to tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of Bill Cosby after the actor’s conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The seven-judge panel ruled that Cosby should not have been convicted in 2018 on three counts of aggravated indecent assault of his former mentee, Andrea Constand, due to a “non-prosecution agreement” he had reached earlier with a former prosecutor. 

Cosby struck an agreement—of which there is no written record, according to the Associated Press—in 2005 with former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor Jr. As he was being investigated for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand, Castor gave Cosby an assurance that he would not be prosecuted if he testified in a civil case brought by Constand.

The assurance led Cosby to testify that he had given quaaludes to women in order to rape them—a testimony that was used by Castor’s successor to charge Cosby in 2015, days before the statute of limitations expired in Constand’s case. 

“In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor D.A.s to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” the state’s high court said in its ruling. 

The ruling will allow Cosby to leave the maximum-security facility where he’s been imprisoned after serving nearly three years of his three-to-10 year sentence. The justices barred prosecutors from attempting to retry the case in Pennsylvania. 

The anti-sexual assault campaign No More was among those expressing support for dozens of survivors who came forward to accuse Cosby of a pattern of abuse and violence that was exemplified by Constand’s case. 

Temple University professor and author Marc Lamont Hill emphasized that the court’s decision did not exonerate Cosby, but rather revealed the inner workings of an unjust legal system.

Josie Duffy Rice, former president of criminal justice publication The Appealblamed “prosecutorial misconduct” for the outcome of Cosby’s case, in which the former TV star vowed to serve all 10 years of his sentence rather than express remorse or admit wrongdoing despite his earlier admission that he had drugged and raped women. 

A number of observers linked the ruling to the fact that more than two-thirds of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, with survivors reticent to try to convince law enforcement, the court system, and in cases like Cosby’s, the broader public, that their experience really happened.

“We stand with all 60 survivors of Cosby’s actions, who bravely came forward with their experiences, which include being drugged, raped, assaulted, threatened, and gaslighted, only to find their abuser let off the hook,” said Shaunna Thomas, executive director of women’s advocacy group UltraViolet. “Today is a blow to survivors everywhere, who deserve so much better than this.”

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