Bill Cosby’s sudden release from prison on Wednesday came as a devastating blow to his accusers, who said the decision to toss out his conviction was a blatant slap in the face to the nearly 60 women who came forward with claims of sexual assault against the disgraced comic.
“I am in shock; I am stunned,” Victoria Valentino, a former Playboy model who accused Cosby of raping her in 1969, told The Daily Beast. “I’m infuriated. I can’t believe that on a little legal glitch that a serial predator would be put back out on the street. I think it makes all women feel unsupported, unbelieved, and invalidated once again. They’ve stolen our voices. They’ve silenced us. They’ve invalidated us.”
Cosby, 83, was set free shortly before 2:30 p.m. ET from SCI Phoenix Prison in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, having served nearly three years of his three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand. The state’s highest court overturned his conviction after it found the prosecutor who brought the case against him was bound by his predecessor’s public announcement not to charge the now-legally blind actor.
Constand and her lawyers said in a statement that the overturned conviction could “discourage those who seek justice for sexual assault in the criminal justice system from reporting or participating in the prosecution of the assailant or may force a victim to choose between filing either a criminal or civil action.”
On the one hand, they noted, “the Court acknowledged that the former District Attorney's decision not to prosecute Mr. Cosby was not a formal immunity agreement and constituted at best a unilateral exercise of prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute at the time, but nevertheless, precluded a future prosecution which included additional evidence developed in the civil case.”
According to the statement, Constand and her lawyers were “not privy” to discussions between the former prosecutor and Cosby or his counsel at the time—and called the outcome a “procedural technicality.”
The news was especially shocking to his accusers because in May he was denied parole for refusing to participate in sex-offender programs behind bars.
Accuser Eden Tirl was taken aback by the court’s decision, saying when she heard the news, she became breathless. “It’s a sad day for all of us women,” she said.
The writer and former actress came forward in 2015 to detail how, while she was guest-starring as a police officer on an episode of The Cosby Show in 1989, Cosby demanded her to visit his dressing room on her lunch break. On the fourth day of filming, Tirl said Cosby groped her. “I’ve never been in such an uncomfortable situation in my life,” Tirl previously said of the encounter.
“Certainly, this feels like a slap in the face,” Tirl said Wednesday. “I just became breathless. I thought he would at least serve three years. I don’t think any of us thought that he was going to be released. I’ve actually been shaking a little bit and out of breath."
“This is a shock; This is not right,” she added. “I’m a great writer, and I have an enormous lexicon to work with but there’s nothing else to say about this other than this is not right. If there are any tears that are going to come, which there are, it is for the anguish that I know many of the women that I’ve become very, very close to over the years, the anguish that they’re going to be feeling the sense of injustice.”
Attorney Lisa Bloom, who represented three of Cosby’s accusers, called his release “a punch in the gut” in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“Having litigated Janice Dickinson’s case against Cosby’s aggressive legal team for four long years, up to the Supreme Court and back again, it is appalling what money can still buy in the criminal justice system. I prepared Janice and watched her and the other supremely brave accusers testify that they were drugged and raped in his 2018 criminal trial. That trial resulted in only the smallest measure of justice against this man, accused by more than 60 women. And now that justice is taken away. It’s a punch in the gut to the victims,” Bloom said.
“I’m glad that we scored a big win in our civil case for Janice Dickinson against Bill Cosby, and no one can take that away. If any victims have timely claims and they want to come forward now for a new prosecution or lawsuit, they should contact an attorney immediately.”
One accuser, Janice Baker Kinney, shared her distress over the decision during a Good Morning America interview on Wednesday afternoon.
“My stomach is kind of in a knot over this,” Kinney said. “Just one little legal-ese can overturn this when so many people came forward, so many women have told their truth and this serial rapist gets to go home today is just stunning to me.”
Both Tirl and Valentino feel that the #MeToo movement truly began with the nearly 60 women who bravely came forward with their stories, which date back to the 1960s and as recently as 2004 when Constand alleged Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his home.
“We were the ones who basically kicked off the Me Too movement, big time,” Valentino said. “[Harvey] Weinstein came after us because they saw that we had been believed, they saw that we were getting justice. Now, they’ve just knocked the knees out from under us.”
Tirl feels that Cosby's accusers have not been given enough credit for spearheading the movement, saying, “Perhaps now people will include us in the narrative. I can pick up article after article and it’s as if people think the Me Too movement kind of globally started with Weinstein, and it did not. It’s adding salt to the wound as I sit here shaking and my husband is asking me, ‘Are you OK?’”
“In terms of how I’m feeling at the moment, the only thing that I feel is, I hope to God that all of these people that have been participating in the conversation about the Me Too movement will participate in our mourning of this incredible decision,” she added.
“I’m sick at heart,” Valentino, 78, concluded. “So now, the battle goes on. The work goes on. We can’t stop. We have to kick it into high gear if he’s out on the street. I hope they keep him with an ankle bracelet [on] because I don’t feel safe anymore. I put my neck on the line and all my sisters have too.”
—With reporting from Zoe Richards and Diana Falzone