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Bill Cosby's Conviction Has Been Overturned

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Comedian Bill Cosby greeted and waved to a crowd of reporters this evening flanked by his legal team, but he was otherwise silent as he walked back into his Pennsylvania home hours after his release from a state prison outside Philadelphia. The state supreme court overturned Cosby's conviction from 2018. That's when he was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Although no other charges have been brought, Cosby has also been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women over several decades. WHYY's Laura Benshoff has been following this case and joins us now from Philadelphia.

Welcome.

LAURA BENSHOFF, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hi. OK, can you just quickly remind us of the specific facts that led to Cosby's conviction in this case?

BENSHOFF: Sure. In 2004, Cosby was accused of giving Andrea Constand, who he had mentored, a much younger woman, pills that incapacitated her. And she says that that left her unable to fend off his sexual advances in his suburban Philadelphia home and really traumatized her.

CHANG: OK, and why did the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturn his conviction?

BENSHOFF: The PA Supreme Court justices, they sided with Cosby - this argument he's been making throughout both trials that he went through and in the appeals, which is that a former district attorney in the suburban county where he has a home and where the alleged assault took place had promised not to prosecute Cosby and that he believed that was binding. So after that promise was made, when Andrea Constand's allegations first came to light, Cosby went on to give sworn testimony in a civil trial, and he incriminated himself then. He said things like he would sometimes give drugs to women that he wanted to have sex with. And so he claimed that he only shared that because he didn't think he could be charged in the future. And the justices said that promise should have counted, that otherwise it was a bait and switch and violated his rights.

CHANG: Well, this news of this overturned conviction has come as a surprise to many people. What kind of reaction have you been seeing so far?

BENSHOFF: So as you noted a little bit earlier, Cosby and his attorneys held a press conference outside his suburban Philadelphia mansion, and the entertainer didn't take any questions put to him. He let his attorney and spokespeople be his messengers, and they praised the justices for this decision. Then we also heard from Andrea Constand, the victim, and her attorneys. They put out a statement saying that they're disappointed, and they're concerned this may discourage other victims of sexual assault from coming forward. And finally, the prosecutor who ran on bringing Cosby to justice - he put out a statement praising Andrea Constand for her bravery and pointing out that a jury still convicted Cosby of the crime he's accused of and that he's, quote, "free on a procedural issue," end quote.

CHANG: Well, what is next for Cosby and prosecutors here because, like we said, Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women? Is there any scenario where that could mean another trial or reinstatement of this conviction or more prison time?

BENSHOFF: The justices in this case made the grounds for appeal very narrow. They said he can never be recharged on these same charges regarding Constand. I spoke to some different defense attorneys who said different things. You know, one said the district attorney could try to take it to the Supreme Court and say, hey, the state Supreme Court here got it wrong, but that that's a pretty tough road to plow. And then you have another lawyer who said, well, they could ask, you know, the same body that just released Cosby to reexamine the arguments in this case but that that's unlikely.

CHANG: Well, either way, Cosby's legal problems are far from over, right? He is still getting sued.

BENSHOFF: He has actually triggered more legal issues by going through this criminal case. He's been charged with defamation for repeatedly - or accused of defamation, I should say, for repeatedly calling women and other people involved in his prosecutions liars. So it is very unlikely this is the last time Cosby will be in court.

CHANG: That is Lauren (ph) Benshoff in Philadelphia - Laura Benshoff of WHYY.

Thank you, Laura.

BENSHOFF: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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