Bill Cosby was once a household name for being wholesome, witty, and like your favorite uncle. The 83-year-old’s fall from grace was shocking, and revealed a dark history of sexual assault, sexual coercion, and the use of drugs to subdue his victims. To say America wrestled with their feelings over the lovable comedian turned predator is an understatement.
But a 2018 conviction for sexual assault that put him behind bars for three to ten years made it easier; he was locked up and people could put a pin in their feelings of betrayal and dismay. Now, the country is forced to reckon once again with Bill Cosby after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 conviction, setting the actor up to be released from prison soon.
Cosby’s Fall from Grace
Cosby was once known as “America’s Dad.” He worked closely with children on the comedy show, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” and on that show he was the perfect picture of a dad, grandfather, or uncle; paternal, friendly, and comfortable around children in a way people could envy. On the hit sitcom “The Cosby Show,” the Huxtable family broke important ground in Black television history. The show aired first in 1984, with an all-Black primary cast, in a very normalized and professional setting. There was no caricaturizing of the cast, and it simply showed a loving, successful, Black family – something that hadn’t yet been done – and set the stage for sitcoms today. Cliff Huxtable, played by Cosby, was a gynecologist of all things, and was once considered the best father on television – his parenting skills were on point.
Following the revelation of his sexual assaults, The Cosby Show was instantly nearly scrubbed from the collective consciousness. America’s Dad became persona non grata and many childhood memories of Cliff Huxtable’s witty parenting repartees became tainted by the reality of the monster behind the friendly face.
A 2018 Conviction
Cosby’s fall from grace started in early 2004. It was in January or February of this year when Andrea Constand says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in Pennsylvania. Cosby later denied the allegations, and claims he only gave her Benadryl. Constand came forward with the allegations in 2005, and it was her public allegation that prompted another woman – Tamara Green – to come forward with allegations of a similar nature concerning encounters with Cosby in the 1970’s. That year, a court declined to criminally prosecute Cosby, but Constand filed a civil lawsuit against the actor. The lawsuit included a deposition with 13 other women who says they were assaulted by Cosby as well over the years.
In June of 2005, ABC News shares, “Beth Ferrier, known in court papers as Jane Doe No. 5, reveals her identity to The Philadelphia Daily News. She alleges that during the course of what she describes as a brief affair with Cosby in 1984 when she was modeling, he drugged her coffee and sexually assaulted her.” ABC continues that following Ferrier’s revelation, “During four days of depositions by Constand’s attorneys, Cosby testifies the following: He got drugs to give women for sex, he gave The National Enquirer interview in 2005 to stop Ferrier’s previously undisclosed sexual assault allegation from surfacing, he hid the affairs from his wife, and he routed payments to multiple women.”
From there, Cosby’s image continued to snowball downward. Famous models and comedians came out against Cosby, and it became obvious that his predatory behavior was another one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets. Over the next decade, even more accusers came forward – some incredibly high profile – and Cosby tried to fight back by defending his image in the media. Friends spoke out in support of him, but the revelations just didn’t stop. More than 50 women came forward in all before a criminal charge was filed against Cosby in 2015 for the 2004 assault of Constand. The charges came two weeks before the statute of limitations would expire on the alleged crime.
The initial case against Cosby ended with a mistrial in 2017. Cosby maintains his image, saying racism may be at the heart of the campaign to “dismantle his legacy.” The case is retried in 2018, and in April Cosby is convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Constand and two others. One juror has talked about Cosby’s deposition being the deciding factor in his vote to convict; Cosby talked openly about plying women with Quaaludes and seemed remorseless for his behavior. ABC shares that in September 2018, “The judge sentenced Cosby to three to 10 years in state prison after the octogenarian was designated a ‘sexually violent predator.’ O’Neill sentenced Cosby in a Norristown, Pennsylvania, courtroom, and then denied bail during pending appeals, capping a two-day hearing attended by about a dozen women who accused Cosby of sexual assault, including Constand, whom he was convicted of assaulting. O’Neill ordered Cosby to serve the sentence in ‘total confinement’ for ‘no less than three years and no more than 10 years.'”
Cosby Soon to Walk
The appeals attempts began almost as soon as the ink was dry on Cosby’s sentencing, and in 2020 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear two points in his appeal to overturn the conviction. ABC News shares, “One was the admission into trial of ‘prior bad acts’ witnesses and Cosby’s 2005-2006 quaalude deposition. The appeal argued that the trial judge erred in allowing Cosby’s prior deposition about using quaaludes during consensual sexual encounters with women in the 1970s at trial.
The second point was a written agreement from previous Montgomery County prosecutor Bruce Castor not to criminally prosecute Cosby in the Constand case. Castor had testified that while he was district attorney, he promised Cosby he would not file criminal charges if the entertainer would testify in a civil lawsuit Constand filed against Cosby in 2005. Cosby testified during four days of depositions by Constand’s attorneys, and the civil lawsuit was settled for more than $3 million in 2006. Prosecutor Kevin R. Steele later brought criminal charges against Cosby in 2015 after succeeding Castor as the county’s district attorney.”
Due to these technicalities, it was deemed that Cosby’s conviction was not fairly reached and his conviction was overturned. Cosby’s attorney is expected to pick the former actor up from prison any moment now, and he will again be a free man. For the 50+ women whom Cosby assaulted, today’s decree is a crushing blow. The argument is not that Cosby did not assault anyone – it’s merely that the trial was handled improperly. Cosby is not the first predator to get off on a technicality, but his freedom is certainly a pit in the stomach of many victims.
Now that Cosby is free, America will once again have to grapple with their feelings about how America’s Dad turned out to be one of the worst predators in Hollywood history.