Who were judges that overturned Bill Cosby’s verdict? Pennsylvania SC panel split over decision

Four judges of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed that Cosby should be freed, while two were both for and against, verdict reveals


                            Who were judges that overturned Bill Cosby’s verdict? Pennsylvania SC panel split over decision
Justice Thomas Saylor, Justice Kevin Dougherty, Bill Cosby, and Chief Justice Max Baer (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and Clem Murray - Pool/Getty Images)

Comedian Bill Cosby is finally a free man, two years after he was first imprisoned for sexual assault. In a move that can only be described as shocking, the Pennslyvania Supreme Court on June 30 overturned his guilty verdict, after he appealed against the prosecution. Calling the prosecution's violation of Cosby's deal an "affront to fundamental fairness," the judges agreed Cosby should be freed in a split decision.

In May 2021, Cosby was denied parole for reportedly refusing sex offender therapy. His smiling mugshot photo also went viral at the time it was taken, in 2020. Despite the massive public backlash, Cosby repeatedly maintained his innocence, as has his wife. In June 2020, Cosby's wife Camille sparked major outrage after calling the Black Lives Matter movement "racist", and slamming the #MeToo movement. 

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The overturning of his verdict isn't without controversy. Ever since it was announced, furious social media users have slammed the court for its decision. That may have you wondering, who are the judges that let Cosby walk free? Here are their names, and what they thought about the case.

(L-R) Attorney Jennifer Bonjean, Bill Cosby, and spokesperson Andrew Wyatt speak outside of Bill Cosby's home on June 30, 2021, in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania (Michael Abbott/Getty Images)

 

Who were the judges that overturned the verdict?

The majority decision was confirmed by Justice David N Wecht, who said Cosby had to be freed. A Democrat, Wecht has served on the PA Supreme Court since 2015. In October 2020, he made local headlines after a Pennsylvania House representative called for his impeachment. Rep Frank Ryan accused Wecht of "judicial activism" in several high-profile cases in the state. Key complaints involved the 2018 case of redistricting, as well as opinions of PA Governor Tom Wolfe's pandemic shutdown orders, and the 2020 Presidential Election. However, that motion never made it to the legislature, and Wecht continues to serve. 

Agreeing with Wecht was Justice Debra Todd, another Democratic judge. In 2019, she made headlines for possibly becoming the first female Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice, but she lost out to Justice Max Baer. Justice Christine Donohue also agreed with Wecht. Another Democrat, Donohue is best known for passing over 7,000 decisions during her tenure at the Superior Court of Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2015.  The final justice to agree on Cosby's release was Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy. The Republican replaced former Justice J Michael Eakin, who resigned after being implicated in a pornographic email scandal. In 2018, Mundy ruled that a woman couldn't have custody of a former same-sex partner's biological son.  

Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania website)

 

Two justices were split over Cosby's verdict. Justice Kevin Dougherty filed a concurring and dissenting opinion in the case. The Democrat is well-known for his focus on autism. In early June, he went on a state-wide listening tour focused on autism to "find effective ways to reform the courts and jails for people with mental conditions."  The other to file a similar opinion was Chief Justice Baer. Another Democrat, Baer has served on the Supreme Court since 2003 and is expected to retire when his tenure ends in 2022. 

The only person to offer a completely dissenting opinion was Justice Thomas Saylor. Having served on the Supreme Court since 1997, Saylor was appointed Chief Justice in 2015. On April 1, he stepped down as Chief Justice, prior to his retirement at the end of the year. In 2020, the Republican judge faced an ethics inquiry after it emerged he improperly pressured a judge in a confidential grand jury case. The investigation stemmed from a complaint a former county judge, who claimed Saylor complained about a Black judge. 

The majority opinion means Cosby can walk away a free man, and cannot be charged again on the same crimes. However, if any new accusations come forward, he is eligible to be tried again. "We do not dispute that this remedy is both severe and rare. But it is warranted here, indeed compelled," they wrote.  

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