Sexual assault accusers said they are “stunned” and devastated after Pennsylvania’s highest court vacated Bill Cosby’s conviction Wednesday, allowing him to walk free after serving two years of his three- to 10-year prison sentence for allegedly drugging and molesting a former basketball coach.
“Stunned. No words. Just sick to my stomach,” Janice Baker-Kinney told NBC News. She is one of more than 60 women who accused the actor of allegations ranging from groping to sexual assault to rape, alleging that Cosby sexually assaulted her in Nevada in 1982.
Baker-Kinney was one of several accusers who testified at his 2018 trial. On Wednesday, she tweeted her frustration with three words: "#RAPIST #RAPIST #RAPIST"
Cosby went to state prison following his 2018 conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. The former basketball coach who was then working for Temple University testified that Cosby assaulted her at his Pennsylvania home in 2004 after she came to him for career advice.
Cosby has denied all wrongdoing and has previously stated his contact with Constand was consensual.
"I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law," Cosby tweeted after being released Wednesday.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that a prior agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case and ordered his release after finding he was denied protection against self-incrimination.
In a joint statement with her attorneys, Constand said the decision regarding Bill Cosby is "not only disappointing but of concern in that it may 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."
Eden Tirl, an actress who was hired for a role on "The Cosby Show" and accused Cosby of assaulting her in 1989, said she was “completely out of breath” after learning about the court's decision.
“From the very beginning, the rigid constructs of the statute of limitations, did not provide protection or a pathway for justice for the women that came out against Cosby,” she said in texts to NBC News. “The outdated laws are so clearly in place--protecting men in these cases, more often than not. This is the story of the #metoo movement that MUST be included in the narrative now! Enough pushing the Cosby story off to the side.”
Earlier this year, Cosby was denied paroleafter he refused to participate in a sex offender program in prison. The actor vehemently maintained that he would not offer any remorse for his alleged actions even if it affected his parole eligibility.
Cosby spokesman Andrew Wyatt thanked his legal team and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, calling Wednesday's ruling a moment of justice for Black Americans.
"This is the justice Mr. Cosby has been fighting for," Wyatt said in a statement. "They saw the light. He waived his Fifth Amendment right and settled out of court. He was given a deal and he had immunity. He should have never been charged."
Heidi Thomas, who accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1984, said in texts to NBC News she felt like the actor’s release was “out of the blue” because “he was just refused parole for not taking part in any Sex assault programs.”
Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented 33 of Cosby’s accusers, released a statement shortly after the court’s decision saying it “must be devastating for Bill Cosby’s accusers.”
Allred added, “My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases. 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.”
Cosby’s prosecution and conviction was one of the first major victories of the #MeToo movement, which brought forth a national reckoning against sexual assault, harassment and abuse.
Attorney Lisa Bloom represents three of Cosby’s accusers, including model Janice Dickinson, who also testified against Cosby at his trial.
“The 3 Bill Cosby accusers I represent and I are disgusted that he is a free man today. He is not released because he is innocent,” Bloom posted on Twitter. “He is released because a prosecutor promised him years ago that he would not be brought to justice, without even making a deal for him to do time.”
Of the trial, Bloom added, “The conviction. We couldn't believe it: justice, a tiny bit, finally. And now this. A kick in the gut to victims and their advocates.”
Several anti-sexual violence organizations also expressed disappointment over the court’s decision to let Cosby go free.
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and by the message this decision sends to the brave survivors who came forward to seek justice for what Bill Cosby did to them. This is not justice,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN, in a statement.
The National Organization for Women said, “Bill Cosby is free on a technicality, but the women he assaulted, who bravely came forward to bring him to justice, are suffering anew. They thought they had finally achieved some limited measure of closure—and now this."
It’s very difficult for victims of sexual violence to see abusers walk free, said Laura Palumbo, communications director at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
“With pain, this also brings up for so many survivors a feeling of helplessness that is very retraumatizing. They can feel that there are too many things outside of their power and control and that the odds are inevitably against them,” she said. “It is so deeply disheartening.”