After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the rape conviction of Bill Cosby, I heard his lawyers say a bunch of hooey. And, involuntarily, I yelled at the television.
There are five things I know about Cosby.
1) His comedy routines are still stuck in my head. As I wrote a little over a decade ago, he was an “iconic individual in my life.” I watched him in everything from I Spy to JELL-O pudding commercials.
2) He is a disappointingly awful excuse for a human being. Five dozen women have credibly accused Cosby of sexual assault. Using his considerable power and influence, he took advantage of his position to become a serial predator.
3) Nevertheless, the overturning of the conviction, on purely legal grounds, was correct, unfortunately. As Slate noted, “Don’t blame the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Blame prosecutor-turned–Trump lawyer Bruce Castor.”
As the Washington Post noted: “The crux of the ruling is this: Castor had said he had a deal with Cosby saying Cosby wouldn’t be charged criminally for the sexual assault claimed by Andrea Constand. Castor said he did so to prevent Cosby from pleading the Fifth Amendment in ongoing civil litigation.”
“The thrust of that opinion is that, even though then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor never reached a formal agreement with Cosby that granted him immunity from prosecution, a press release that Castor sent out in 2005 — combined with Cosby’s later, incriminating testimony in a civil lawsuit — had the same effect as a formal immunity deal.
I resist the notion of suggesting, though, that Cosby was released “on a technicality.” Constitutional protection is not “a technicality.” The right not to incriminate oneself is not “a technicality.” If there had not been immunity in a civil case against prosecution in the criminal case, Cosby would never have elocuted his actions in the civil case.
4) Still, this is awful news. From the Guardian: “Victoria Valentino, who accused Cosby of assaulting her, told CNN that she was “absolutely shocked, stunned’ by the court’s decision. ‘It’s a gut-punch. What does it say about women’s words, a woman’s value, all the lives that he damaged? It’s outrageous. I’m infuriated,’ she said.
“Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented many of Cosby’s accusers, said the decision must be ‘devastating’ for those women. ‘My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases,’ she said.”
“Like it or not, the decision to prosecute or not prosecute lies solely within the discretion of a district attorney and once he makes an agreement with a defendant, that agreement is a contract just like any other and when the defendant relies on that agreement, that is a binding contract,” Randy Zelin, who teaches at Cornell Law School, told USA TODAY.
He predicted the decision will have value as a precedent. “It means an oral agreement is sufficient to enforce a promise from a prosecutor,” Zelin said. “The good news is prosecutors are now on notice to be careful what they promise – and to put it in writing.”
5) Bill Cosby’s team should just shut up. Andrew Wyatt is the guy who complained about Eddie Murphy’s joke on Saturday Night Live in 2019. Murphy said: “If you would’ve told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring, stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail — even I wouldn’t have taken that bet.” He then did an impression of Cosby saying, “Who’s America’s dad now?”
Upon Cosby’s release, Wyatt said. “This is a man who was railroaded, who was targeted because of a black man being America’s dad… On this hot day, this is a hot verdict for us that we will forever cherish because we got one of the greatest, or the greatest entertainer alive today, Mr. Bill Cosby, this great American citizen.” Wyatt claimed “vindication” in the rape case and a victory for black Americans. I’m not buying it. At all.
As Renée Graham in the Boston Globe noted: Black America deserves justice. Bill Cosby’s release from prison isn’t it. A powerful man escaping accountability doesn’t help Black people ensnared in an unjust legal system — or encourage sexual assault survivors to speak out.
“Cosby shows his disdain not only for sexual assault survivors but for the same Black America he spent years criticizing in speeches promoting respectability politics as he willfully ignored systemic racism as a blight on generations of Black people.”
Sidebar: the initial remarks by Cosby’s TV wife Phylicia Rashad is why I don’t tweet.
In summary, the opinion piece by Emma Gray of MSNBC speaks to me. “Processing [the] events requires us to hold many truths at once: I believe the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had legal reason to come to the conclusion that it did; I believe every person should be afforded due process; the criminal justice system is fallible and broken; I believe Bill Cosby is a sexual predator; I believe victims of sexual assault are routinely failed by the justice system and the culture as a whole.”
So no, I won’t be seeing him on a proposed comedy tour. Ever.