Bill Cosby walked out of prison a free man after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated his sexual assault conviction, a move that drew joy in some quarters but mostly dismayed assault survivors.
Reaction to the ruling was swift, with organizations that aid survivors, as well as elected leaders, largely panning the decision to overturn Cosby’s sentence and painting it as a miscarriage of justice.
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and by the message this decision sends to the brave survivors who came forward to seek justice for what Bill Cosby did to them,” Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network President Scott Berkowitz said in a statement. “This is not justice.”
Cosby was freed after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged with sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, home.
"Let’s not be fooled — this verdict by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not exonerate Bill Cosby by any means,” said Nina Ahmad, interim president of the Pennsylvania branch of the National Organization for Women. “It just highlighted legal issues – misdeeds, really – of the district attorney, Bruce Castor.”
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Castor was the Montgomery County district attorney who originally declined to charge Cosby before his successor proceeded with the case. Castor’s actions, in which he told Cosby he would not charge the former comedian criminally if Cosby gave a deposition during a 2014 civil case, were cited as the primary reason for overturning Cosby's conviction on Wednesday.
Speaking with NBC10, Castor defended his actions at the time. “There were a lot of things that led me at the time to think that a prosecution would be problematic and unprovable," he said.
In a statement, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said Cosby was released "on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime."
"My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims. Prosecutors in my office will continue to follow the evidence wherever and to whomever it leads," Steele said.
While not calling Cosby out by name, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro seemingly referenced Wednesday’s decision in a tweet, saying that sexual abuse survivors suffer “setback after setback,” but that they “always keep fighting.”
Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, said that he stands with sexual assault survivors. “Please keep standing strong, speaking up, and know that I will do all I can to protect victims of sexual violence in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Rachel Copen, acting co-executive director at WOAR - Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence, said she fears the decision to overturn the case will make it even more difficult for survivors to navigate what to do after they’ve been assaulted.
“We’re anticipating that many more people will be hesitant to maybe even reach out for help,” Copen said. “People that have an experience in the past might even be re-traumatized, might be having increased feelings of fear.”
Some, however, praised the decision to free Cosby.
Phylicia Rashad, who starred alongside the actor in “The Cosby Show” in the 80s and 90s, expressed joy at his release.
“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” she tweeted.
Rashad was recently named dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts. Her support of Cosby drew calls for her to be fired, with some saying she sent a hostile message to students.
NBC10 legal analyst, attorney Enrique L1 Latoison, says the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “made the right decision” in the ruling to let Bill Cosby go free. He explains why legally the supreme court made the sensible choice.