The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the indecent assault conviction of Bill Cosby on Wednesday and ordered his release from prison after finding that he was denied protection against self-incrimination.
The court said that a prosecutor’s decision not to charge Cosby, 83, in an earlier case opened the door for him to speak freely in a lawsuit against him, thinking he would not incriminate himself criminally. A second prosecutor later used the lawsuit testimony in a criminal trial, and that testimony was key in his conviction years later.
Cosby was convicted on three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018 of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004, and was serving a three- to 10-year sentence. He has served nearly three years of the sentence.
The state Supreme Court said Cosby cannot be retried on the same charges.
Let’s be clear from the outset — I hold no brief for Bill Cosby. Based on the available evidence, he’s a flat-out monster and richly deserved punishment for his misdeeds. I do hold a brief for due process, however, and there’s no question his prosecution was a violation of his rights. The right against self-incrimination is of paramount importance. All things being equal, I would rather not see Bill Cosby’s face in the future, once we get past this round of media attention.
So yeah, Bill Cosby as he is now carries little value, but what about Bill Cosby as he once was? He was one of the best comedians of the previous century, arriving on the scene around 1960, the same time as Bob Newhart (beloved), Jonathan Winters (much missed), Don Rickles (“problematic”), and Woody Allen (reviled, mostly on merit). Cosby first became famous for his “Noah” bit, which is still hilarious nearly 60 years on:
God: (standing on a chair behind Noah, he rings a bell once) NOAH.
Noah: (Looks up) Is someone calling me? (Shrugs and goes back to his work)
God: (Ding) NOAH!!
Noah: Who is that?
God: It’s the Lord, Noah.
Noah: Right … Where are ya? What do ya want? I’ve been good.
God: I want you to build an ark.
Noah: Right … What’s an ark?
God: Get some wood and build it 300 cubits by 80 cubits by 40 cubits.
Noah: Right … What’s a cubit?
I wouldn’t want to see Noah’s Menard’s bill — that much is certain.
Between the Noah bit, his Fat Albert routines, and the decade-long kids show based on those routines that was a staple of my childhood, Cosby was ubiquitous even before his 1980s era sitcom ruled the airwaves. He was America’s Dad. It was all a lie, yes — he is also a sexual predator and a hypocrite of the first order, but he was a wonderful interpreter of the human condition. What do we do with useful monsters? It’s a conversation worth having.