Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction has been overturned by the highest court in the state of Pennsylvania after it found an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.
The 83-year-old entertainer has served more than two years of a three to ten-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.
Cosby was charged in late 2015 when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from Constand’s lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
The court said that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil suit.
There was no evidence that promise was ever put in writing.
The judge at court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday said Cosby had relied on the former prosecutor’s decision not to charge him when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in the civil suit.
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,” the court decided.
Cosby was convicted of drugging and molesting Constand. At the trial, the judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify about Cosby, but at a retrial, five others were allowed to testify about their experiences with him in the 1980s.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era.
In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify.
Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.
In May, Cosby was denied parole after refusing to participate in sex offender programs during his nearly three years in state prison. He has long said he would resist the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it means serving the full 10-year sentence.
Cosby, a groundbreaking Black actor who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, made a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry.
His trademark clean comedy and homespun wisdom fueled popular TV shows, books and stand up acts.
The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.