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May 28, 2021

High-profile reminder that parole is rarely a given, especially for a prisoner claiming innocence

Though decided earlier this month, a high-profile denial of parole is garnering headlines this week.  This USA Today story, headlined "Bill Cosby denied parole after he refuses sex offender treatment program," provides these details:

Bill Cosby will not be released from prison anytime soon.  The 83-year-old actor, who is currently serving three to 10 years in Pennsylvania state prison after being convicted of sexual assault in 2018, has been denied parole nearly three years into his sentence.

The Pennsylvania State Parole Board declined Cosby's parole request on May 11 partly over his need to participate in "a treatment program for sex offenders and violence prevention," and "failure to develop a parole release plan," according to a state board action letter provided to USA TODAY.  The board also cited a "negative recommendation" from the Department of Corrections.

Cosby's representative, Andrew Wyatt, told USA TODAY Thursday that the decision "is not a surprise" to the disgraced TV star because the board explicitly stated he would be denied parole "if he did not participate in SVP (Sexually Violent Predator) courses."  But Wyatt said Cosby, who has maintained his innocence, has no plans to attend the therapy programs. "The Cosby Show" star has previously said he expects to serve his full 10-year sentence and vowed to show no remorse for crimes he said he didn't commit.

"Mr. Cosby has vehemently proclaimed his innocence and continues to deny all allegations made against him, as being false, without the sheer evidence of any proof," Wyatt said in a statement to USA TODAY on Thursday.  "Mr. Cosby continues to remain hopeful that the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court will issue an opinion to vacate his conviction or warrant him a new trial."

Cosby was the first celebrity to go on trial in the #MeToo era and was convicted of drugging and raping Andrea Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked for his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia in 2004.  Cosby appealed his conviction, citing multiple alleged "errors" by the trial judge in his case, but the state appeals court upheld his verdict in December 2019.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted Cosby's appeal in June 2020, thus raising the possibility it might be overturned in the future....

He's currently serving out his sentence at State Correctional Institution at Phoenix, a state prison in Skippack Township, Pennsylvania.  He will be eligible for parole in September after serving the three-year minimum of his sentence.  To be considered for parole, the Pennsylvania State Parole Board said Cosby not only needs to complete a treatment program, but he must maintain a "clear conduct record."

May 28, 2021 at 12:58 PM | Permalink


What Bill Cosby is experiencing is the same thing that Gerald Amirault faced over his 1986 Massachusetts convictions (and 40 year prison sentence) in the Fells Acres Day Care case. His Mother and sister were also prosecuted, but they were granted a new trial after their convictions and never retried. Gerald Amirault was not paroled until May 2004 (after serving 18 years in prison) because he also continued to insist on his actual innocence and he (like Cosby) refused to participate in the Massachusetts Department of Corrections' Sexual Offender Treatment Program, where he would have had to acknowledge his guilt and describe his (alleged) crime in detail. For the actually innocent, it's a Kafkaesque experience, a Cath-22.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 29, 2021 12:49:28 PM

I’m fine with an innocence claim not being a barrier to parole, depending on the circumstances anyway, but Cosby’s case seems weird given that he still has a direct appeal pending. Wouldn’t the Board be getting a little ahead of things in evaluating that claim before the PA SC weighs in? I wonder how frequently people go up for parole before all direct appeals are even exhausted.

Just on the merits too I think his claim is kinda weak sauce (or should I say Jello?). You could say it’s like the Leonard Part 6 of innocence claims. (Maybe I’m biased since that was 1.5 hours of my childhood lost forever; multiply that by how many people suffered through it [even if they walked out partway] and I bet it’s way more than 3 years! To his credit, he did at least apologize for it.) Anyway, for Amirault he could point to something like a very flimsy case brought in haste and based on potentially unreliable testimony. I don’t see anything comparable for Cosby. If he really had something decent, couldn’t he also motion the PA SC for release pending appeal?

Have a good Memorial Day!


Posted by: hardreaders | May 30, 2021 11:13:35 AM

I am betting that Bill Cosby's attorneys have already requested and been denied a bond for Cosby, pending the outcome of his appeal. I also recall when the trial Judge denied Cosby a bond pending appeal. Cosby seems to have a large amount of testimony from several adult women that make him appear quite guilty. This is not the kind of case where most parole boards would grant parole the first time a defendant comes before them, whether an appeal is pending or not. Here in Kentucky, it is not always unusual for people with serious criminal convictions to come up for appeal while their appeals are still pending. This typically happens when a defendant has spent years in jail awaiting trial. We had a homicide and 1st degree robbery case here in Lexington, Ky., where the defendant was arrested 12/23/2013 and did not plead guilty until the 3rd quarter of 2020. He had a unique case, where the prosecution appealed the trial court's decision to remove the death penalty as a possibility for that defendant BEFORE his trial. The Ky. Supreme Court refused to take the bait, and dismissed the appeal, on the grounds that the defendant had not yet been convicted and sentenced to death, so the issue was not ripe for appeal yet. Defendant was 18 years, 5 months old when he was arrested. He spent almost 7 years in jail as a pre-trial detainee. In many of these kinds of serious cases (but not this one, where defendant received a 40 year sentence), defendant ends up qualifying for parole consideration quickly, because he got jail credit against his ultimate sentence.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | May 30, 2021 4:47:12 PM

Jim, thanks for that! What you say makes sense.

Also, I always appreciate your detailed comments and relevant case examples.


Posted by: hardreaders | May 30, 2021 5:00:31 PM

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