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The Rise, Fall and Vacated Conviction of ‘America’s Dad,’ Bill Cosby

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure are tired. Really, really tired.

  • After three years in prison, serial rapist Bill Cosby was released Wednesday after Pennsylvania's highest court overturned his sexual assault conviction on a procedural technicality.

  • The man we once called “America’s Dad” is a national disgrace. But like Michael Jackson and R. Kelly, he still has plenty of fans who defend him.

  • Why is it so difficult to let go of our Black cultural icons even when they destroy their own legacies?

  • In light of the countless wrongful convictions of Black citizens who will never walk free, what can the Cosby case tell us about the role of money and fame in our justice system, and why is it important to remain steadfast in our refusal to let them back into our media ecosystem?

Although more than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, only one was granted a measure of justice. In 2018, Cosby was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. He was sentenced to 3 to 10 years.

But now, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has declared Bill Cosby a free man after his attorneys successfully petitioned for his conviction to be overturned based on a “due process mistake,” Toure explains.

Apparently, Bruce Castor Jr., the district attorney who served in Lancaster County in the mid-’00s, made an unwritten agreement with Cosby that, if he testified in another case (a civil suit also brought by Constand), he would not be prosecuted. (Incidentally, he was one of the defense lawyers in Trump’s second impeachment trial.)

By 2016, a new D.A. was in charge, who decided to prosecute Cosby anyway.

“Just to be clear, the court is not saying there’s new evidence that he did not rape and drug these people. He has not been exonerated,” says Toure.

Danielle points out that Cosby’s accusers –– many of whom were featured on the cover of New York Magazine in 2015 –– all have “eerily similar stories.”

They’re who she’s thinking about now, who “after decades of fighting and the bravery it takes to accuse such a powerful man,” are watching him walk free.

“Honestly, it makes me sick,” she says. “I don't care that he's 80-something years old and he only probably has a few years left. None of those things matter to the victims who he caused significant trauma.”

Episode Highlights –– We Are Tired

Survivor Lili Bernard: from self-blame to bravery

Several years ago, Toure interviewed one of Cosby’s victims, Lili Bernard, on his podcast Toure Show.

At first, he didn't understand Bernard’s claim that Cosby raped her twice. But “it's important to ask questions and understand details and context and actual stories,” Toure says.

Cosby was a mentor to Bernard, who guest-starred on “The Cosby Show” in 1984. The first assault took place after he took her out to dinner. She began to feel ill, which she blamed on the food at first. She now knows she was drugged. She fell asleep and woke up in Cosby’s home. She woke up, embarrassed, and went home, still feeling unwell.

A year later, they went out to dinner again, and he drugged her again. When she started to feel sick, Bernard realized: It's not me, it's you, Toure explains.

“The first time, she blamed herself. The second time, she put it together.”

With enough money, a technicality can trump accountability

Bernard is, of course, just one of the many women who came forward to accuse Cosby of sexual assault.

“I know many men in the entertainment industry who were like, yeah, I've been hearing stories about him from the '70s and '80s. This is how he got down for a long time,” says Toure.

But he points out that, as a legal matter, it is crucial for our justice system to only convict based upon real evidence. It’s not enough for our government to claim someone is bad.