A previous prosecutor had decided not to charge the legendary comic, and he relied on that move to speak freely and give incriminating statements.
June 30, 2021, 12:56 PM EDT / Updated June 30, 2021, 3:05 PM EDT
By David K. Li
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the sexual assault conviction of Bill Cosby on Wednesday and ordered his release from prison after finding that he was denied protection against self-incrimination.
The court said that a prosecutor's decision not to charge Cosby, 83, opened the door for him to speak freely in a lawsuit against him and that testimony was key in his conviction years later by another prosecutor.
Cosby was convicted in 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004, and was serving a three- to 10-year sentence. He has served nearly three years of the sentence.
The state Supreme Court said Cosby cannot be retried on the same charges.
"When an unconditional charging decision is made publicly and with the intent to induce action and reliance by the defendant, and when the defendant does so to his detriment (and in some instances upon the advice of counsel), denying the defendant the benefit of that decision is an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was foregone for more than a decade," the high court ruled.
"For these reasons, Cosby’s convictions and judgment of sentence are vacated, and he is discharged."
The prosecution of Cosby was one of the first major milestones of the #MeToo movement, as women came forward with their tales of unwanted sexual advances and harassment in the workplace.
Cosby’s spokesman Andrew Wyatt thanked the comedian's legal team and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, calling Wednesday's ruling a moment of justice for Black Americans.
"This is the justice Mr. Cosby has been fighting for," Wyatt said in a statement. "They saw the light. He waived his Fifth Amendment right and settled out of court. He was given a deal and he had immunity. He should have never been charged."
About two hours after the ruling was published on Wednesday, Cosby was released from the SCI Phoenix detention center about 35 miles northeast of Philadelphia, where he had been housed as inmate No. NN7687, a corrections official said.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele lamented Cosby’s release and characterized the state high court’s findings as a “procedural issue.”
“He was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime,” Steele said in a statement.
“I want to commend Cosby’s victim Andrea Constand for her bravery in coming forward and remaining steadfast throughout this long ordeal, as well as all of the other women who have shared similar experiences. My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims.”
The entertainer once dubbed “America’s Dad” was sent to state prison following his 2018 conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand.
She testified that Cosby assaulted her at his Pennsylvania home in 2004 after she came to him for career advice.
But Bruce Castor, the Montgomery district attorney at the time, declined to press charges against the comedian and actor, "thereby allowing Cosby to be forced to testify in a subsequent civil action," according to the high court.
"Unable to invoke any right not to testify in the civil proceedings, Cosby relied upon the district attorney’s declination and proceeded to provide four sworn depositions. During those depositions, Cosby made several incriminating statements," according to the high court opinion.
"D.A. Castor’s successors did not feel bound by his decision, and decided to prosecute Cosby notwithstanding that prior undertaking. The fruits of Cosby’s reliance upon D.A. Castor’s decision — Cosby’s sworn inculpatory testimony — were then used by D.A. Castor’s successors against Cosby at Cosby’s criminal trial."
In a rare jailhouse interview in 2019, Cosby said he wouldn't offer any remorse for his actions — even if that would've affected a parole board's decision.
"When I come up for parole, they're not going to hear me say that I have remorse. I was there. I don't care what group of people come along and talk about this when they weren't there. They don't know," Cosby told the news outlet BlackPressUSA.com.
This is a developing story, please refresh here for updates.David K. Li
David K. Li is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.
Alec Hernandez and Diana Dasrath contributed.