American comedian and actor Bill Cosby has been freed from prison after a court overturned his sexual assault conviction.
Cosby was released from a Pennsylvania prison on Wednesday after the state’s Supreme Court issued its ruling. He returned to his home near Philadelphia a short time later.
The 83-year-old Cosby had served nearly three years of a three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. Constand was Temple University’s women's basketball administrator at the time of the assault.
The state’s highest court ruled that Cosby was unfairly prosecuted because a previous prosecutor, Bruce Castor, promised in 2005 that he would not be charged criminally over Constand’s accusations. There was no evidence that the agreement was put in writing. Four Supreme Court justices formed the majority that ruled in Cosby's favor. Three others offered dissenting opinions.
Cosby was charged criminally by Castor’s successor, Kevin Steele, in 2015. Steele claimed that he was not required to observe the agreement made by Castor. But the Supreme Court disagreed. It found that Cosby depended on Castor’s promise when he agreed to testify in a civil case brought by Constand.
As part of that testimony, Cosby admitted offering substances to women he wanted to have sex with. But he said all the encounters were consensual.
The civil case ended with Cosby settling with Constand for more than $3 million. But when Cosby’s testimony in the civil case was made public, Steele had Cosby arrested and brought criminal charges against him.
In total, more than 60 women have come forward to say that Cosby sexually violated them and many accused him of unknowingly drugging them.
Cosby was only charged in Constand’s case because many of the incidents happened long ago and the statute of limitations had already run out. A statute of limitations is a law that prevents a suspect from being tried after a specific amount of time has passed.
The charges in Constand’s case were filed just days before the statute of limitations was about to run out.
Cosby appeared with his legal team outside his home on Wednesday, but did not speak. One of his lawyers, Jennifer Bonjean, said the comedian had “served three years of an unjust sentence.”
Cosby smiled and moved his head when asked if he was happy to be home. Later, he posted a statement to his Twitter account, thanking his supporters and saying, "I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence."
In a statement, Constand and her lawyers condemned the ruling. They, along with sexual assault victims and their supporters, expressed fear that the decision could discourage other victims from coming forward. “We urge all victims to have their voices heard,” the statement said.
Cosby broke barriers in the 1960s as the first black actor to star in an American television network show. He went on to become hugely famous as the wise and understanding Dr. Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show. The program was one of the most-watched in America during its run from 1984 to 1992.
Cosby's estimated worth was more than $400 million at one point. But his career collapsed as the accusations against him increased.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
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Words in This Story
assault – n. an attack
prosecute – v. officially accuse someone of a crime in a court of law
dissent – v. offer an opinion that disagrees with others
consensual – adj. with the willing agreement of all the people involved
stance – n. a way of thinking about something, especially expressed in a publicly stated opinion
maintain – v. to continue to have or keep in existence
discourage – v. to make someone less determined, hopeful or confident