Prosecutor fights back as Bill Cosby releases birthday message
(NEW YORK) — As newly released prisoner Bill Cosby celebrated his 84th birthday on Monday by thanking supporters “for fighting for my freedom,” the Pennsylvania district attorney slammed by the state Supreme Court for prosecuting the comedian is fighting for his reputation.
Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele issued a lengthy statement over the weekend defending his office’s decision to prosecute Cosby in 2018. Steele also attempted to clear up what he described as “misinformation” over the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision this month to overturn the entertainer’s conviction on three counts of felony aggravated indecent assault.
Steele even took on the state high court’s Chief Justice Max Baer, who in a TV interview aired on Sunday accused Steele and his office of orchestrating “a reprehensible bait and switch.” He said Steele’s office ignored a deal struck with Cosby by former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor that supposedly granted him immunity from prosecution for agreeing to give a deposition in a civil case brought by Andrea Constand.
Constand is one of the multiple women who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting them. Cosby’s criminal conviction stemmed from the accusations that Constand, a former Temple University employee, made against the entertainer.
Cosby was convicted in April 2018 and was sentenced to serve three to 10 years in prison. He was released from prison on July 2 after serving roughly three years.
“Since the majority decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released William H. Cosby Jr. from state prison, there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation about what actually took place in this criminal prosecution,” Steele said in his statement. “Throwing further fuel on the fire was a televised interview airing this weekend by now Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Baer during which he labeled the prosecution a ‘reprehensible bait and switch.'”
Steele alleges the immunity deal Cosby supposedly struck in 2005 with Castor never existed and nor was it conveyed to his office after he beat Castor in a 2015 election.
“To be very clear, prosecutors in this case did not believe there was an agreement not to prosecute or immunity for the defendant at the time we moved forward on the case, and we do not believe it now,” Steele said. “If we had believed there was an agreement or immunity, we would not have moved forward in our attempt to bring Cosby to justice.”
In an interview with ABC affiliate station WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Baer attempted to explain the state Supreme Court’s 6-1 decision that prompted outrage from women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back to the 1960s.
One of those accusers, Heidi Thomas, a former actress who testified at Cosby’s trial that he drugged and raped her in 1984, told WHTM that “the justices that have made this decision have just enabled a criminal to go without a consequence.”
But Baer took exception to such comments.
“We certainly didn’t find Bill Cosby not guilty or find him innocent. What we found was what the state did was inappropriate,” Baer said.
Cosby has maintained his innocence throughout his criminal case.
Baer said that he and five of his six fellow justices on the state Supreme Court found ample evidence that a non-prosecution agreement existed between Cosby and Castor, who went on to represent former President Donald Trump at his second impeachment trial.
“He (Cosby) went in and admitted his illegal conduct because he had immunity,” Baer said of Cosby’s testimony in Constand’s civil suit, which resulted in a settlement of more than $3 million.
The state Supreme Court also took what it described in its 79-page ruling as a “severe and rare” step of barring prosecutors from trying Cosby again on the same charges.
“What we said is we’re not gonna let the commonwealth, the state through the district attorneys to engage in that kind of reprehensible bait and switch and that’s not to protect Bill Cosby. Nobody is sympathetic to Bill Cosby. That’s to protect 13 million Pennsylvanians against that kind of conduct,” the court said.
Steele countered that his office conducted an extensive search of its records and court records looking to see if the deal was ever put into writing.
“Despite the extensive investigation we conducted, we found no credible evidence that Castor had given Cosby immunity,” Steele wrote in his statement.
Steele added that a two-day pre-trial hearing was held by the trial court on the alleged agreement, in which Castor testified that he assured Cosby he would not face criminal charges to encourage the entertainer to testify in Constand’s civil case.
“The trial judge found that testimony by Castor regarding the supposed promise not to prosecute was ‘incredible’ and rejected the defendant’s allegations that Castor promised Cosby immunity and that he relied on it,” Steele said.
He noted that Cosby’s appeal of the trial court’s ruling was previously rejected by the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the state Supreme Court.
For the first time since the ruling, Steele said his office is examining “if any further review is available to us in this case.”
Meanwhile, Cosby’s spokesperson Andrew Wyatt released to ABC News an exclusive birthday photo of Cosby wearing a white long-sleeve sweatshirt emblazoned with the words, “Humour me” and “HELLO FRIEND.”
Cosby also sent out a birthday message to his supporters.
“On my Birthday — I wholeheartedly thank you for your support,” Cosby said, “thank you for fighting for my freedom and thank you for staying grounded and on the case. The Revolution Is In The Home.”
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