By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) – Pennsylvania prosecutors on Monday said they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out the state court decision that overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction earlier this year.
The 84-year-old comedian and actor was set free from state prison in June, three years after a jury found him guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand, a former employee of his alma mater Temple University, at his home in 2004.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded in a split decision that Cosby should never have faced charges after striking a non-prosecution agreement with a previous district attorney more than a decade before his arrest.
The decision, which reversed the first high-profile criminal conviction since the #MeToo movement began exposing sexual misconduct among powerful men, angered sexual assault victims and their advocates.
Cosby was once known as “America’s Dad,” largely due to his longtime role as the lovable father in the sitcom “The Cosby Show.” But his family-friendly reputation was destroyed after more than 50 women accused him of multiple sexual assaults going back five decades.
Constand’s allegations were the only ones that were not too old to permit criminal prosecution.
Cosby’s attorneys had argued that the Montgomery County district attorney, Bruce Castor, promised in 2005 that he would not pursue criminal charges. Though no written agreement exists, Castor released a statement at the time announcing no charges would be filed.
Absent prosecution, Cosby was unable to avoid testifying as part of a civil lawsuit that Constand filed against him; he eventually settled the case with a multimillion-dollar payment.
The current district attorney, Kevin Steele, later charged Cosby in 2015 based in part on that testimony, in which Cosby acknowledged giving sedatives to women.
The trial court ruled that no binding non-prosecution agreement had ever been reached. But the state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that Cosby had relied on Castor’s representation and that Steele’s prosecution violated Cosby’s rights.
In a press release on Monday, Steele said the ruling, if left untouched, would set a dangerous precedent “that prosecutors’ statements in press releases now seemingly create immunity.”
A spokesperson for Cosby, Andrew Wyatt, called the petition a “pathetic last-ditch effort.”
“In short, the Montgomery County D.A. asks the United States Supreme Court to throw the Constitution out the window, as it did, to satisfy the #MeToo mob,” Wyatt said in a statement.
The petition appears to be a long shot. The U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear only a small fraction of cases every year, and the Cosby case took place in state court, rather than federal court.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Leslie Adler)