Bill Cosby speaks as victims, critics lash out: Everything you need to know about surprising turn in sex-assault case

Bill Cosby is free.

The prolific star of iconic 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show was released from prison Wednesday, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated his 2018 conviction for sexual assault. He had been found guilty of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. Her story prompted dozens of other women to come forward with similar accusations against the star.

Brian Perry, one of his attorneys, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon — where Cosby did not speak — that the release was proof of a fair system.

"We've said from day one, we just didn't think he was treated fairly. And that ... the system has to be fair, and fortunately the Supreme Court agreed with us," Perry said. "He's happy, his wife is happy. The system only works if it's fair to all sides. That's the bottom line."

Cosby, who'd been behind bars since his conviction, had always maintained his innocence. Indeed, he released a brief statement on Twitter following his attorneys' news conference saying as much and thanking supporters.

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The entertainer was denied parole as recently as May, after he declined to acknowledge that he had done wrong by completing a treatment program. His sentence was for up to 10 years. So why is he out already?

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know.

Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, Bill Cosby, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt speak outside of Bill Cosby's home on June 30 in Cheltenham, Pa. Cosby was released from prison after a court overturned his sex assault conviction. (Photo: Michael Abbott/Getty Images)
Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, Bill Cosby, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt speak outside of Bill Cosby's home on June 30 in Cheltenham, Pa. Cosby was released from prison after a court overturned his sex assault conviction. (Photo: Michael Abbott/Getty Images)

What exactly happened?

Cosby had appealed his conviction late last year, and this is the result. The court ruled in a split decision that a deal Cosby had made with the former district attorney that he wouldn't be charged should have protected him for being prosecuted. That official, Bruce L. Castor Jr., who went on to defend former President Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, had pledged not to charge the former TV dad if he "agreed to sit for a deposition in a civil case" that Constand had filed, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The newspaper explained that parts of that deposition, in which he made incriminating statements about giving drugs to women, were later used to prosecute the TV star.

Another reason the court cited for its action is that jurors had been allowed to hear the testimony of five more of Cosby's accusers with stories similar to that of Constand.

The Associated Press reported that Justice David Wecht wrote that throwing out Cosby's conviction "is the only remedy that comports with society's reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system."

What the victims are saying

Constand and her lawyers called the development "disappointing" and "of concern" because it might discourage future victims of sexual assault from speaking out.

"Once again, we remain grateful to those women who came forward to tell their stories, to DA Kevin Steele and the excellent prosecutors who achieve [sic] a conviction at trial, despite the ultimate outcome which resulted from a procedural technicality, and we urge all victims to have their voices heard," they wrote.

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Cosby accuser Victoria Valentino told CNN that the move was especially upsetting because it had prompted the #MeToo movement that brought down producer Harvey Weinstein and countless others.

"Because we spoke out and we saw justice with Cosby, everyone else felt empowered and spoke out," Valentino said. "This is really a sad statement about a woman's value, a woman's worth — what is happening right now, and we need to do something about this. I just don't know what. I'm so stunned. My stomach is in knots."

A trio of other Cosby accusers responded through their attorney, Lisa Bloom, who called the ruling "a kick in the gut to victims and their advocates" in one of her many tweets on the subject. The women were "disgusted," Bloom said.

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And they weren't the only ones.

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Gloria Allred, the lawyer and activist who represented more than 30 Cosby accusers, issued a statement: "My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases," she said. "I represented a majority of the prior bad act accusers who testified. Despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision, this was an important fight for justice and even though the court overturned the conviction on technical grounds, it did not vindicate Bill Cosby's conduct and should not be interpreted as a statement or a finding that he did not engage in the acts of which he has been accused."

Why so many people are talking about Phylicia Rashad

Cosby's former TV wife on The Cosby Show has long defended him, and she continued to do so after his release.

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People on social media called out Rashad for her stance, noting that she's the new dean of Howard University's School of Fine Arts.

A few hours later, she followed up her initial statement to say that she supports sexual assault survivors. She didn't mention Cosby.

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What's next for Cosby

Cosby's lawyer and spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, did not immediately respond to Yahoo Entertainment's request for comment. But he told TMZ Wednesday morning that he had just spoken to Cosby's wife, Camille, and was on his way to pick up his client.

"She is excited!" Wyatt said of Cosby's wife since 1964.

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He added that the fact that Cosby is now back out in the world "says a lot about the charges and about all the things that these women said about him."

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced that he was released just before 2:30 p.m.

Wyatt later issued a statement from Cosby's family: "I want to thank the Supreme Court who saw the light and saw the truth."

What's not in the 83-year-old's future is being retried in the same case, because the court's decision takes that off the table. Constand long ago settled a civil lawsuit in the matter; Cosby paid her $3.38 million as part of a 2006 deal.

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