The Reporter (Vacaville)

He’s out of prison, but Cosby still lives in shame

- — Eugene Robinson’s email address is eugenerobi­

Bill Cosby may have been released from prison, but in no way has he been exonerated. He knows what he did. His many accusers know what was done to them. And I think the rest of us know, too.

The once-beloved comedian’s 2018 conviction for aggravated indecent assault — nullified Wednesday by the Pennsylvan­ia Supreme Court — had been one of the highest-profile successes in the #MeToo movement’s crusade to hold powerful men accountabl­e for credible, but often years-old, allegation­s of sexual crimes against women. The fact that Cosby is free to sleep in his Philadelph­ia-area mansion, rather than a prison cell, shows how difficult obtaining justice in these cases will be.

I wish I could say the court’s decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction is an outrage, but I can’t. A woman named Andrea Constand alleged that Cosby drugged and raped her in 2004. Bruce Castor, who was then the district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvan­ia, decided there was not enough evidence to file criminal charges. But Constand was also pursuing a civil lawsuit against Cosby, and to help that case, Castor promised never to charge Cosby for her alleged rape — which meant that when Cosby was deposed in connection with the suit, he could no longer invoke his constituti­onal right against self-incriminat­ion since he was no longer in jeopardy of criminal prosecutio­n. In the deposition in 2005, he admitted to giving quaaludes to women before having sex with them.

Ten years later, the man who unseated Castor for district attorney, Kevin Steele, used Cosby’s admissions in the civil deposition to prosecute him. Ultimately, Cosby was convicted and sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. Steele maintained that he was not bound by Castor’s promise. The state’s highest court ruled Wednesday that indeed he was. In essence, Cosby had been compelled to testify against himself — and the Fifth Amendment says that must not be how our legal system works.

So Cosby is free, and not on a technicali­ty. Due process is the right of every defendant — even one accused of groping, assaulting or raping some 60 women over more than four decades. But please don’t confuse Cosby’s release with any kind of vindicatio­n.

Please try not to gag on his self-righteousn­ess. “I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence,” he said Wednesday in a tweet, accompanie­d by a photo in which he holds up a raised fist. His “story” is that the sex he had with multiple women who say they were unknowingl­y given drugs and rendered helpless was consensual.

And please don’t let your day be ruined by Cosby’s knee-jerk defenders, including his longtime co-star Phylicia Rashad, who tweeted in triumph: “FINALLY !!!! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriag­e of justice is corrected!”

Rashad is the newly appointed dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University. Later in the day, following a barrage of criticism, the university issued a statement that Rashad’s tweet “lacked sensitivit­y toward survivors of sexual assault” and that “personal opinions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies.”

What the Cosby case demonstrat­es, I fear, is how hard it will continue to be to hold powerful alleged offenders accountabl­e for rapes and other sexual assaults that took place years or decades ago.

There are statutes of limitation­s that have run out. There is the fact that physical evidence is likely nonexisten­t, making many cases a matter of he-said she-said, or rather he-said-shesaid-she-said-she-said-she-said. ... And there is the fact that rich and powerful men are indeed rich and powerful, and they can shield themselves with the most talented and aggressive legal talent.

Former president Donald Trump, to defend himself against the allegation that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in the dressing room of a department store, even has the active assistance of the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland.

I am convinced that the #MeToo paradigm shift is real and enduring. Society now takes a very different view of sexual harassment, exploitati­on and assault than it did even a few years ago. The legal system takes a different view as well — but its ability to punish coldcase crimes is inherently limited. The prosecutor and the judge who sent Cosby to jail bent the rules in a righteous cause. But they bent them nonetheles­s, and now Cosby will never fully pay for his injury to Constand. He did serve three years in prison, but the dozens of women who say they are his victims understand­ably believe that is not nearly enough.

Civil suits are more promising than criminal prosecutio­n because of a lesser standard of proof. But if you take away some of Cosby’s money or Harvey Weinstein’s money, in the end, they are left merely somewhat less wealthy.

They are also disgraced, and the very least we can do is make sure they stay that way. Cosby no longer lives in a prison. He continues to live in shame.

Cosby was in no way exonerated. He knows what he did. His accusers know. And the rest of us know, too.

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