Cosby home from prison after court reverses sexual assault conviction

NEW YORK : Bill Cosby was freed from prison and returned home on Wednesday, less than two hours after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sexual assault conviction, saying he never should have faced charges after striking a non-prosecution deal with a previous district attorney more than 15 years ago.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its split decision after the 83-year-old US actor had served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence following his 2018 conviction, prompting outrage.

Cosby on Twitter thanked supporters and said: "I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence."

Cosby was found guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, an employee at his alma mater Temple University, in his home in 2004. Her allegations were the only ones against Cosby not too old to allow for criminal charges. The court's decision expressly barred prosecutors from retrying Cosby.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who charged Cosby in 2015, noted a jury found Cosby guilty and that Wednesday's decision was not based on the facts of the case.

"My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims," he said. "We still believe that no one is above the law - including those who are rich, famous and powerful."

The court's majority found that a state prosecutor, Mr Bruce Castor, made a deal with Cosby's attorneys in 2005 not to bring criminal charges after concluding he could not win a conviction.

As a result, Cosby was unable to avoid testifying as part of a civil lawsuit that Ms Constand brought against him, since defendants can refuse to testify only when faced with criminal prosecution.

Cosby acknowledged giving women sedatives to facilitate sexual encounters, though he said they were consensual. He paid Ms Constand a multimillion-dollar settlement. His admission, which a judge unsealed in 2015, helped form the basis for criminal charges later that year. Steele, who had just defeated Castor in the election for district attorney in part by criticising him for failing to prosecute Cosby, charged Cosby days before the statute of limitations was set to expire.

Steele's prosecution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found, essentially amounted to reneging on Castor's earlier promise not to charge Cosby, violating his due process rights. - REUTERS