Bill Cosby’s overturned conviction stacks up the game against victims


Bill Cosby
Photo credit: Gilbert Carrasquillo / Getty Images

There are dozens of women, each with their own take on the same story: a world famous comedian put a drink in his hands – sometimes it tasted weird, sometimes it came with a pill on the side. A dizzy feeling followed by a sudden lapse of time. Confusion when she woke up with her clothes pulled up or stripped down, and Bill Cosby on or near her. A burgeoning unease that turned into fear: who would believe an unknown teenage model, a waitress, a Playboy bunny, an aspiring actress, an assistant, rather than America’s father? What if one of the country’s most prominent celebrities fights back with all the force of her influence? In many cases, the women raped and assaulted by Cosby have remained silent for decades, but in 2018 it appeared that the climate had changed. After a trial ended in a suspended jury, a court found the 83-year-old guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.

It was a watershed for at least four years in the making: in 2014, comedian Hannibal Buress made a gesture towards Cosby’s predatory story – 14 women openly accused him of rape a decade earlier – when ‘a performance that has gone viral. For some reason, the charge ultimately stood: one survivor after another spoke out about Cosby’s transgressions in public, 35 of them eventually sat down with it. new York to tell their stories. By the time jurors convicted Cosby, their ranks had grown to over 60. When she heard the news, Carla Ferrigno – who says Cosby grabbed her and kissed her in 1967, when she had a double date with the actor and his wife – told the Cup: “I was all worried for a long time that they were going to give him everything he needed and wanted. Consequences!”

And for a while, it was like that. A judge declared Cosby a “sexually violent predator”, giving him a sentence of three to ten years in 2018. But on Wednesday, Cosby was released from prison and his conviction was overturned on a legal technicality, with no possibility of a new trial. To those who find the evidence against him overwhelming, the development has seemed blind. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the first courtroom victory of the Me Too era – not because it found Cosby innocent, but because a former prosecutor allegedly botched his case.

In 2018, Cosby’s verdict came as a shock to many of the women who helped bring him down: a year earlier, his first trial for the assault on Andrea Constand in 2004 had ended with a suspended jury. But then came the string of allegations against Harvey Weinstein, with dozens of women officially speaking out about eerily similar tactics – forced sex, forced massages, threats of blacklisting and physical harm – the disgraced movie mogul deployed . Weinstein’s fall sparked an avalanche of complaints against men who had used their power to curb bad behavior. Like Cosby, Weinstein’s abuse had been an open secret for years, with his influence over Hollywood working like a steamroller on anyone who threatened his reputation. But the shared experiences of so many people, across decades, countries and industries, could not be ignored. Some of the men have lost their jobs, withdrawn from public attention; Weinstein is now serving a 23-year prison sentence, with a second criminal case pending.

In Cosby’s second trial, the court allowed five other women to testify against him, helping to prove his role model. The jury found him guilty of penetration without consent, unconscious penetration, penetration after administration of an intoxicating substance. “David can win and beat Goliath,” Heidi Thomas – who says in 1984 she woke up to Cosby forcing her to give him a blowjob, after taking a sip of the drink he made her use as accessory during an impromptu reading – told the Cup after the verdict. “We hear so often, ‘our justice system is a mess,’ and this is proof that it works.” At that point, it felt like women could finally be believed. Now, it seems that belief is not enough.

Reversing Cosby’s conviction, the majority opinion of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court indicated a “no prosecution” agreement between Cosby and Bruce Castor Jr. You might recognize Castor as a lawyer who defended another (alleged) serial predator , Donald Trump, against arraignment, but in 2005 Castor was the Montgomery County District Attorney, determining whether Constand’s allegations – that Cosby drugged and digitally penetrated her the previous year – amounted to a criminal case. Ultimately, Castor concluded that he did not have the evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cosby assaulted Constand. She had been in contact with her alleged attacker in the months that followed, he told Cosby’s defense in 2016, and she contacted a lawyer before going to the police. In Castor’s opinion, these choices “have ruined his credibility as a viable witness.” Instead, the prosecutor assured Cosby that he would not be charged if he testified in Constand’s civil action, which Cosby would settle for $ 3.38 million in 2006. Believing himself to be in the Sheltered from prosecution, the comedian sat on a series of depositions in 2005 and 2006, offering a damning account of his sexual habits.

In segments the New York Time published in 2015, Cosby recalled having instructed the director of a modeling agency to send him young women “not well financially”, preferably from out of town. He freely admitted, almost boastfully, giving women qualifications when he wanted to have sex with them. He described the practice as regular, “like a person would say having a drink,” although he also often gave alcohol to his notes. Although Cosby himself did not understand them as such, his responses have been interpreted as an admission. The way he described building a relationship with Constand – positioning himself as his mentor; “Invite him to my house, talk to him about personal situations concerning his life, his growth, his education” – looks like grooming; the sex he presents as consensual seems clearly forced, the result of sedatives he expected to help facilitate intercourse.

In 2015, with allegations mounting, a new district attorney reopened Constand’s case, days before the 12-year limitation period expired. This time, prosecutors had Cosby on file: His depositions played a key role in his conviction, but, ironically, they also turned out to be the thing that got him out of jail. In the majority opinion, to promise Cosby that he would not be prosecuted for testifying, and then to use that testimony to prosecute him ten years later, was “coercive bait and exchange”. It doesn’t matter that a new district attorney has reconsidered the case. It does not matter that the sentencing judge found Castor’s proposal non-binding and that, at least according to the Time – a transcript of the deposition had been made public before the arrest of the actor. Never mind the women over 60 who now stand behind Constand. Cosby’s “due process rights” had been violated, the judges ruled. It was a “fundamental fairness to which all aspects of our criminal justice system must adhere.”

If Cosby had already taken responsibility, it is possible that he was released from prison after only three years anyway. In May, the Pennsylvania Parole Board denied Cosby’s early release application because he refused to participate in a therapy program for sexually violent offenders. He never apologized, much less admitted no fault: “When I ask for parole, they will not hear me say that I have remorse,” he said in 2019, qualifying his trial as “assembly”. The court seems to have agreed on this point: the judges did not release him because they presume him innocent – even his lawyers did not say that. (“We all thought, collectively, that was how the case would end,” attorney Brian W. Perry said Wednesday. In the eyes of Pennsylvania’s highest court, it was Cosby – a man who suffered two trials, who admitted under oath that he routinely drugged women he wanted to sleep with, and who had already settled with an accuser for millions of dollars – who was treated unfairly.

Reacting to the decision, Constand called it “not only disappointing”, but also “concern.[ing], as this may discourage those seeking justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the perpetrator. And indeed, one of the main reasons so many victims of sexual assault – 690 out of 1,000, according to the National Rape, Abuse and Incest Network (RAINN) – never report to the police, it’s that they don’t believe the police will do anything about it. . Of those 310 police reports filed, about 50 led to arrests, 28 to felony convictions and 25 to incarceration, suggesting that even if you are believed, there is a good chance that this will not happen. not translate into a legal victory. When it comes to rape and sexual assault, it’s usually hard to find solid evidence – prosecutors didn’t think Constand had enough to support his case the first time around.

Yet his was the allegation that ended more than 40 years of alleged sex crimes, simply because the statute of limitations had expired for many of Cosby’s accusers by the time people started to pay attention. At trial, the actor’s defense team attempted to use the survivors’ silence against them, trying to portray their reluctance to speak earlier as jumping on the train for money and weight. Meanwhile, many Cosby victims said the decision to speak publicly exposed them to harassment, threats and trauma that reoccurred. Those who took a stand were once again ashamed; Remember the juror who after the first trial concluded that Constand could not have been assaulted because she showed up at Cosby’s house in a crop top. The women who testified in the second trial resisted questions blaming them for the abuse they suffered, only to see Cosby’s legal team appealing the argument that their accounts were capitalizing on “hysteria. #MeToo, ”as Cosby’s spokesperson said. In a “he said, she said” case, the numbers tell us who is usually believed. And even when victims have the benefit of the doubt, their rapist can still walk on a technical detail.

Three years in prison, international disgrace, serial rape allegations confirmed as culturally accepted fact, admitting under oath that he routinely drugged women before sex, just as his accusers have said – in the end , none of this eclipsed Cosby’s wealth and “Teflon” influence. It didn’t erase his ability to keep his legal team in the game until they pulled a card without getting out of jail. The same power that kept his victims silent for years kept him from serving his sentence, as they feared. Dozens of women. Decades of predation. Cosby’s own words. When will it ever be enough?


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