Supreme Court declines to review decision that freed Bill Cosby

Cosby has claimed he relied on a US prosecutor’s promise of immunity when he gave potentially incriminating testimony.

Bill Cosby gesturing outside his home in Elkins Park, Pa., after being released from prison in 2021.
Bill Cosby gesturing outside his home in Pennsylvania after being released from United States prison in 2021 [File: Matt Rourke/AP Photo]

The United States Supreme Court announced on Monday without comment that it would not review Bill Cosby’s sexual assault case, leaving him a free man and ending a two-decade legal drama that shifted the cultural landscape, destroyed the ground-breaking Black actor’s reputation, and sent him to prison for several years in his late 70s.

The high court — whose nine members include two men accused of sexual misconduct themselves — declined to review a stunning decision out of Pennsylvania that released Cosby from prison in June over the word of a former prosecutor who said he had made a secret promise with Cosby’s lawyers that he could never be charged.

A Cosby spokesperson expressed “sincere gratitude to the justices” on behalf of Cosby and his family for the announcement and said he was the victim of “a reprehensible bait and switch” by the prosecutor and trial judge in the case.

“This is truly a victory for Mr Cosby, but it shows that cheating will never get you far in life, and the corruption that lies within Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has been brought to the centre stage of the world,” spokesperson Andrew Wyatt said.

The 84-year-old Cosby, according to Wyatt, remains in good health despite being legally blind. He said that “many people are calling for projects for him” and that he is considering a final stand-up tour.

Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand smiles as she listens during a news conference after Cosby was found guilty in his sexual assault retrial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 2018.
Bill Cosby accuser Andrea Constand penned a memoir published in September 2021 that offered her view of the high-profile #MeToo case against Cosby [File: Matt Slocum/AP Photo]

Accuser Andrea Constand planned to issue a statement later in the day.

District Attorney Kevin Steele in suburban Philadelphia’s Montgomery County said in a statement that asking the high court to revive the case “was the right thing to do”, even if it was a long shot. He thanked Constand for her courage and wished her well.

“All crime victims deserve to be heard, treated with respect and be supported through their day in court,” Steele said.

Steele has said there is no evidence that Cosby had a legally binding agreement that he could never be prosecuted.

His predecessor, Bruce L Castor Jr, never put it in writing or told anyone in his office about it. He never mentioned it in public until new evidence emerged and the case was reopened a decade later.

“A secret agreement that permits a wealthy defendant to buy his way out of a criminal case isn’t right,” Steele argued in court in 2016 as he pressed to send the case to trial.

Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill found Castor’s testimony on the point not credible and sent the case to trial. However, the state Supreme Court later ruled that whether or not the supposed agreement was legally binding, Cosby relied on it when he gave eye-popping — and potentially incriminating — testimony in a lawsuit later filed by Constand.

“The principle of fundamental fairness that undergirds due process of law in our criminal justice system demands that the promise be enforced,” Justice David N Wecht wrote last year.

During the deposition, a seemingly freewheeling Cosby gave long, stream-of-consciousness answers to questions from Constand’s lawyers. He detailed his sexual involvement with a string of young women, a few still in their teens, over the years. And he recalled giving several of them, including Constand, alcohol or pills while he remained sober.

“I don’t hear her say anything. And I don’t feel her say anything. And so, I continue, and I go into the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection. I am not stopped,” Cosby said in the 2006 deposition, describing a sexual encounter that came after he gave her three pills for stress, which she said knocked her out.

He was arrested in the Constand case on December 30, 2015, just days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired. Steele had reopened the case after The Associated Press went to federal court to unseal Cosby’s long-buried testimony in Constand’s lawsuit. Cosby, after giving four days of testimony, had paid her $3.4m to settle the case.

People stand on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The US Supreme Court says it will not take up the sexual assault case against comedian Bill Cosby, leaving in place a decision by Pennsylvania’s highest court to throw out his conviction and set him free from prison [File: Mariam Zuhaib/AP Photo]

He went on trial in the separate criminal case in June 2017. The jury could not reach a verdict. Less than a year later — after media reports about media mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of women galvanised the #MeToo movement — a second jury convicted Cosby of drugging and molesting Constand.

Scores of women have come forward to say Cosby sexually assaulted them, but Constand’s claim is the only one that led to an arrest. Cosby’s insurer, against his wishes, settled a Massachusetts lawsuit involving seven accusers for an undisclosed amount after the 2018 conviction. At least two other lawsuits remain pending against the actor.

Castor said he declined to arrest Cosby in 2005 based in part on his belief that both parties “could be held in less than a flattering light”. Constand later sued Castor for defamation and won a settlement from him.

Source: AP