June 30 (Reuters) – Pennsylvania’s highest court on Wednesday overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction and ordered his immediate release from prison, ruling that a no-prosecution deal he struck with a former prosecutor district should have protected him from the charges.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling came after Cosby served more than two years of a potential three to ten year sentence in state prison following his conviction in 2018.
The 83-year-old comedian and actor was best known for his role as the lovable husband and father on the 1980s television series “The Cosby Show”, which earned him the nickname “America’s Dad”.
But his family reputation was shattered after dozens of women accused him of sexual assault over a span of decades. His conviction was widely seen as a defining moment in the #MeToo movement which sparked a string of allegations against powerful men in Hollywood and beyond.
He could be released as early as Wednesday from a state correctional facility in Shippack, Pa.
Cosby was convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee, at her home in 2004 after drugging her with unidentified pills.
The majority of the court concluded that a state attorney, Bruce Castor, made a deal with Cosby’s lawyers in 2005 not to lay criminal charges.
As a result, Cosby could not avoid testifying in a civil lawsuit Constand has brought against him, as defendants can only refuse to testify in the event of criminal prosecution.
His sworn statement, which a judge unsealed in 2015, ultimately led to a new district attorney, Kevin Steele, to indict Cosby later that year, just days before the statute of limitations expired.
This lawsuit, according to the court, was essentially a reversal of Castor’s earlier promise not to indict Cosby.
“In light of these circumstances, the subsequent decision by successor prosecutors to prosecute Cosby violated Cosby’s due process rights,” Judge David Wecht wrote on behalf of the majority. “There is only one remedy that can completely restore Cosby to the status quo ante. He must be released, and any future prosecution on these particular charges must be prohibited.”
Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey and Jonathan Stempel in New York Editing by Alistair Bell
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