Jul 1, 2021 - Podcasts

Why Bill Cosby is now free

Bill Cosby was released from prison on Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction. The justices cited an existing agreement with a prosecutor they said should have barred Cosby from being charged.

  • Plus, missed cancer screenings take a toll.
  • And, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on overlapping movements for civil rights.

Guests: Harvard University constitutional law professor Noah Feldman, Axios' Tina Reed and How to Be an Antiracist's Dr. Ibram X. Kendi.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

Can you believe it’s July 1? I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: missed cancer screenings take a toll. Plus, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on overlapping movements for civil rights.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: why Bill Cosby is now free.

NIALA: Bill Cosby was released from prison yesterday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his sexual assault conviction. The justice is cited in an existing agreement with a prosecutor, which should have barred Cosby from being charged. I know I have a lot of questions about this, as you probably do. And we have our resident legal scholar, Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman here with some answers. Hi Noah.

NOAH FELDMAN: Hey, Niala thanks for having me.

NIALA: Noah, what happened here?

NOAH: What happened here is that the Pennsylvania Supreme court overturned the conviction of Bill Cosby. Not because Cosby was not guilty, but because the prior prosecutor in the case before the case was brought against Cosby, had promised that he would not charge Cosby in a criminal charge. Subsequent to that, Bill Cosby testified at a civil trial, and he was unable to invoke his right against self-incrimination because the prosecutor had said he wouldn't be charged. Then, the next prosecutor came and brought a criminal charge against Cosby. And at that moment, they were able to take advantage of testimony that he had given in the civil trial. And the Pennsylvania Supreme court said: that whole process is not okay. That violates due process. If a prosecutor says we're not bringing charges, and then after that, the person against whom no charges are brought, has to testify.. Then the government can't change its mind, bring criminal charges, and rely on the testimony that was given in the civil case.

NIALA: So how could the trial even happen to begin with?

NOAH: The reason the trial happened is that the prosecutor who made this agreement whose name was Bruce Castor was no longer the district attorney at the time when the criminal charges were brought against Cosby. And the subsequent prosecutors simply said they did not consider themselves bound by the original decision of the district attorney. Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is saying: They were wrong. They should have been bound by this decision, but there was no written statute or written law saying that they had to be bound. And so they said: we're not bound. We think there's enough evidence. We're bringing a criminal prosecution. They got lots more evidence than the first prosecutor had put together and they sure enough got conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

NIALA: It’s just a really difficult legal decision to understand. And I wonder how you think this could affect future sexual assault cases.

NOAH: First, let me say, I can only imagine the terrible pain suffered not only by Cosby's victims, but by other sexual assault victims when they hear news like this. It's from a symbolic perspective, just awful. So I-anyone in that situation has my-my deepest sympathy. With respect to future cases, the short answer is that legally speaking, nothing in this decision should discourage future prosecutions. The only thing that legally speaking this should do is make it really clear that when a prosecutor says: I'm not going to go forward, that that is binding on subsequent prosecutors, at least in the state of Pennsylvania. However, in the realm of public opinion, a big part of successfully prosecuting sexual assault cases is convincing victims or survivors of the assault. To come forward, and in that sense, a result like this one certainly undercuts the potential confidence that other prosecutors would have in telling survivors of sexual violence: You will be vindicated in court and probably it will also affect the confidence levels of some future potential witnesses.

NIALA: Noah Feldman hosts the Deep Background podcast from our partners at Pushkin. Thanks Noah.

NOAH: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: We’ll be back in 15 seconds with how covid has affected cancer care in the U.S.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

New data just out is showing that last year breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings were down by staggering percentages. The National Cancer Institute's director predicted that breast and colorectal cancers would likely cause 10,000 additional deaths over the next decade, just because of screenings and treatment that stopped during the pandemic. I should say, this is an issue that's really important to me. As a breast cancer survivor, I can say firsthand that screening saved my life. We're joined now by Axios’ healthcare editor, Tina Reed, to delve into this. Hi Tina.

TINA REED: Hi. Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Tina, why are screenings down so significantly?

TINA: So we saw screenings were down across the board, in particular, last spring because of the pandemic, obviously, with stay at home orders, people were really taking that seriously, staying home, not going to the doctor. I should say, studies have found that screenings have picked up again. But that doesn't mean that we've caught up from all those missed screenings from last year.

NIALA: The pandemic shed a light on how disproportionate healthcare outcomes could be, depending on who you are. Was that also true when you looked at screenings based on demographic group?

TINA: Yes. Research has shown that there were some significant drops when it came to screenings. In particular, breast cancer screenings among Latinas were down 84%. They were down 98% among Native American women. When it came to cervical cancer screenings, they were down 82% among Black women and they were down 92% among Asian-American Pacific Islander women.

NIALA: Tina, and this is on top of already pretty grim data for disparities when it comes to fatalities for cancer among some of these demographic groups?

TINA: Exactly. We see that while the mortality rates of cervical cancer have been declining for several years, Black women are still 80% more likely to die from this form of cancer than white women.

NIALA: Tina Reed is Axios’ healthcare editor. Tina, thank you so much.

TINA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: We're checking on Thursdays this summer with author and historian, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi about race and racism in America and what's on his mind today. He's been thinking about how the fight for LGBTQ plus rights intersects with the fight against racism in this country. He covers us in his most recent episode of his new podcast, Be Anti-racist. Dr. Kendi, great to talk to you again.

DR. IBRAM X. KENDI: Of course, thank you for having me.

NIALA: There’s a group that embodies this overlap between the two movements and you cite them in your new podcast. I'm talking about the Combahee River Collective. I wonder if you can tell us about these women?

DR. KENDI: Well shout out to Boston. These were a group of Black feminists. Lesbians who organized in Boston and many of them were sort of alienated from the Black power movement where women were being disregarded and they were even alienated from the gay liberation movement, where Black queer folks we're being disregarded. And so they, you know, formulated their own group and ended up sort of issuing one of the most powerful statements and really anti-racist statements in my estimation, in-in American history in 1977.

NIALA: How do you see the LGBTQ+ movement...How do you see that intersectionality with the fight for civil rights for people of color?

DR. KENDI: To me, you can't truly be against anti-Black racism or anti-Latinx racism or anti Asian or, or anti-Native racism, if you have a homophobic or transphobic perspective. You're not going to, to recognize, let alone battle against what queer people of color are facing.

NIALA: For people who are hearing this and maybe have never really thought about all of these things as linked, I wonder what advice you have for people, for how they can do a better job of linking those things.

DR. KENDI: I think it's first for us to realize that, that we all have multiple identities. And so for us to really reflect on ourselves, and even reflect on other people, and just have a recognition of what other people, depending on their identities are facing, and-and how we could be contributing to that form of bigotry. So we can stop. Right? It's just having that recognition and awareness to stop us so that we can see every human being, no matter what group, what identity identity groups, uh, they are in, as equals.

NIALA: Dr. Ibram X Kendi is the author of how to be racist. He's also host of a new podcast, Be Anti-racist and with us every Thursday, this summer. Dr. Kendi, thank you.

DR. KENDI: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

NIALA: Before we go - one last story. We’re following reports of a sealed indictment against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer. Details are expected in a New York court this afternoon - and could be a major blow to former President Trump and his family business. Check Axios.com for the latest, and we’ll have a lot more about this on the show tomorrow with my colleague Margaret Talev, who will also be filling in for me.

So be sure to listen in -- That’s all from us today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening - stay safe - and I’ll be back after the holiday weekend.

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