US comedian, Bill Cosby, was freed from prison on Wednesday after a US court overturned his conviction for drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 15 years ago.
The 83-year-old left SCI Phoenix, a state jail 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Philadelphia, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Cosby had been denied a fair trial.
Cosby, who shattered racial barriers with his Emmy-winning role on “I Spy” in the 1960s, was convicted in 2018 of assaulting Andrea Constand at his Philadelphia mansion in 2004.
But the judges wrote in a 79-page decision that a non-prosecution agreement between a former district attorney and Cosby over evidence he gave in a civil case meant the actor should not have been charged.
“Cosby’s convictions and judgment of sentence are vacated, and he is discharged,” they wrote.
Cosby, who also starred as a dad and doctor on the hit TV series “The Cosby Show,” in the 1980s, left prison just before 2:30 pm (1830 GMT), a spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections told AFP.
His conviction was the first guilty verdict for sexual assault against a celebrity since the advent of the worldwide reckoning against sexual violence and abuse of power dubbed the #MeToo movement.
Cosby served more than two years of a three-to-ten-year sentence for aggravated indecent assault and has always maintained his innocence.
Although more than 60 women charged that they had been victims of sexual assault by Cosby, he was tried criminally only for Constand’s assault, since the statute of limitations had expired in the other cases.
Cosby has insisted that the encounter with Constand, who was then a Temple University employee, was consensual.
The former actor appeared frail as he slowly walked to waiting media outside his home, shortly after being released from prison.
He did not say anything, instead leaning on his team of lawyers and spokesman Andrew Wyatt to answer questions.
“On this hot day – this is a hot verdict for us,” Mr Wyatt said.
“Mr Cosby has always used his celebrity and his name to uplift women… How could a man who is being watched by the FBI every day be raping and drugging women… especially a black man?” he added.
Off-camera, fans of Mr Cosby could be heard yelling their support throughout the media conference.
Accusers of Cosby and supporters of the movement expressed anger at his release.
Lawyer Lisa Bloom said she and the three Cosby accusers that she represents were “disgusted that he is a free man today”.
Actor Phylicia Rashad, who played his wife on the Cosby Show, wrote on Twitter: “A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” in response to the news.
Prosecutor Kevin Steele said in a statement that Mr Cosby “was found guilty by a jury and now goes free on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime”.
“My hope is that this decision will not dampen the reporting of sexual assaults by victims… We still believe that no one is above the law – including those who are rich, famous and powerful.”
Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represented more than 30 accusers of Mr Cosby, described the ruling as “devastating” but said the decision did not vindicate the comedian’s conduct.
“My heart especially goes out to those who bravely testified in both of his criminal cases,” her statement added.
Additional reporting from AFP and BBC