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Bill Cosby to be Released from Prison after Conviction Overturned; 16 Confirmed Dead, 147 Unaccounted for as Search Enters Day Seven. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And so it takes a lot for a court of appeals or a state supreme court to say that's too much, that went too far, to the point where we have to reverse this conviction.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And that is the point you're making there, the Supreme Court is saying that the witness they brought in to make the pattern argument, if you will, should not have been allowed?

HONIG: Exactly, that the prosecutors went too far and the judge let the prosecutors go too far in calling these five other women who were not the victims in the charge, the technically charged conduct in the indictment. These were other women who were called to establish. The prosecution said a pattern but the judge said it went too far and it got to the point, essentially, where the jury couldn't even -- differentiate and it was prejudicial to the defendant that we can't let this conviction stand.

KING: Elie Honig, I appreciate your hustle on this breaking news. We'll continue the coverage throughout the day.

I appreciate your time today on Inside Politics, an hour of breaking news. We'll see you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer and Ana Cabrera pick up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Breaking news just in. Bill Cosby is about to be a free man. The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court moments ago vacated the 83-year-old's sex assault conviction. He was convicted of three counts in 2018. His case was an early flashpoint in the Me Too movement. But, again, just moments ago, the court overturned Bill Cosby's conviction.

And with us now is CNN Correspondent Brynn Gingras. Brynn, I know you've been going through the documents to get the latest information on this. What do we know about this bombshell ruling?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. I mean, this is the opinion that we're going through right now to get the fine details of it all. But like you said, the Supreme Court, the state's highest court in Pennsylvania, vacating his conviction and judgment of sentence according to the Pennsylvania courts, according to this opinion.

And we're still trying to figure out does that mean he is actually going to be leaving prison today. So, we'll get these answers for you. But to break down the courts, split on this judgment, we're learning that four were in favor of this, two-part in favor, part not in favor and one who filed a dissent entirely. And, of course, those are the fine details that we're still trying to work out for you, and we will bring you as soon as we know them.

But to give a little bit more background, again, he was convicted back in 2018 for aggravated incident assault. He was only serving a few years of a ten-year sentence. Remember, he wanted to take that full sentence instead of showing any remorse for what he was accused of doing.

And the accuser, again, was Andrea Constand, someone who worked at Temple University, and accused the comedian drugging and assaulting her many years ago. If you remember back in the early stages of this whole process, prosecutors brought this case forward within moments before the statute of limitation days expired.

So this was, as you said, a huge case that came forward. It was big in the Me Too movement. Dozens of women had come forward and accused the comedian of similar sort of egregiousness, and they were all -- many of them in the courtroom during the many trials that were going on with this case and the appeals process.

So he was just actually denied being able to -- sorry. He was just denied of being able to be released from prison not too long ago, so this is a huge turn of events. And, again, we're going to go through this opinion and try to get more details for you, Ana, but this is huge.

CABRERA: Again, this is just breaking. So, Brynn, I understand you don't have a lot of information because you're still working on it. But at this point, do we know when we could see Bill Cosby walk out of prison?

GINGRAS: We don't. That's a question we are asking right now in trying to get the answer to. But it's very possible with this turn of events that it could be today. But, of course, we have people going to that courtroom in Pennsylvania trying to get that answer, Ana.

CABRERA: Okay. Brynn, stand by. And as you go through those court documents, I want to bring in a couple of legal experts, including Elliot Williams, who is with us right now.

Elliot, first, your reaction to what we are just learning, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has now overturned the conviction of Bill Cosby.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, it's a dark day in the history of American law. The challenge here is that there was never a question as to Bill Cosby's guilt, right? In a lot of cases, when cases are overturned or when people are convicted or not convicted, the issue is that the case was just hard to prove against them.

The issue with Bill Cosby is that the statute of limitations had run on a pattern of predatory conduct, right? So, whether it was the matter of Andrea Constand, there were anynumber of quite serious allegations brought against Bill Cosby. And so we should be careful to note that even though this was the charge that Bill Cosby was ultimately convicted of, there were many other instances of conduct that either couldn't have been charged or just couldn't have been brought.


And so this was a short sentence and, again, this is all breaking very quickly and we're learning more about it. He only served a couple years of it. But to some extent, we can say that justice hasn't really been served here. But I look forward to reading the opinion and seeing exactly what the basis were for why they threw it out.

CABRERA: And stay with me here, Elliot. I also want to bring in Elie Honig, our Senior Legal Analyst as well, former federal and state prosecutor. Elie, are you surprised by this conviction being overturned?

HONIG: I am surprised, Ana. And I think the first thought of here has to be for the victims, for the charged victim, the one who was Bill Cosby was specifically convicted for, and for all the other victims who came forward and testified and spoke out bravely. It's got to be devastating to see this conviction thrown.

Now, it's very rare to see a court of appeals overturn a jury verdict on this basis. And, essentially, it appears here's the ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. When Bill Cosby was charged, he was charged with the sexual assault of one victim, that Temple University employee who Brynn referred to.

Prosecutors said and the judge said, yes, you can. Prosecutors said, we want to call up to five other victims, not the ones who are charged here but five other victims to establish a pattern, to establish that this is how Bill Cosby went about preying on these women.

The judge let them do that and now the Supreme Court has said that went too far. These other five victims were not the subjects of the charged indictment and they went beyond establishing a pattern. They went to the point where it was what we call prejudicial to the defense.

So that's the legal basis for the ruling here. It's really rare to see a conviction overturned on those grounds. And like I said, it's just got to be a devastating moment for the victims.

CABRERA: So, Elie, can the prosecution now appeal this and have a new trial or what happens next?

HONIGH: So, they can't, as a practical matter, appeal. I guess they could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but this isn't the kind of case that the U.S. Supreme Court would take. This opinion is coming from the highest state court in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Prosecutors now have to decide if they want to try to retry Bill Cosby for what would be a third time. Because, remember, the first time he was tried, there was no conviction, it was a hung jury. The second time was the one that resulted in his conviction. So they have to make a really difficult decision.

And I'll tell you from experience, prosecutors usually are willing to retry somebody once, meaning for a second time total when something like this happens. A third time gets to be sort of the limit. I've seen people who have been tried three times very, very rarely. But beyond that is sort of beyond the pale of what you'll ever see from prosecutors.

CABRERA: While you look at who's trying to reach you so urgently right now, Elie, let me bring in Areva Martin, who is another great legal mind of ours to weigh in on what just happened. Areva?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I'm pretty shocked, particularly given the defiant nature that we've seen from Bill Cosby and his team from the beginning of the trial, the two trials that Elie just talked about, as well as after the verdict in that last trial where he was actually sentenced, Bill Cosby has remained defiant.

We had reports that even in prison, he refused to participate in some classes that were made available for sex offenders and that he maintained his innocence throughout. So I think this is a big setback for the women that came forward to testify, the many, many women who told their stories of being drugged and sexually abused by Bill Cosby. His conviction was watershed movement for Me Too movement and meant so much for so many women who had suffered in silence and who had been afraid to come forward and tell their stories.

Now, to have a court say that those stories can't be told in a trial, like the one we saw in Bill Cosby, is a real blow, I think, to those women, as well as to the larger Me Too movement.

CABRERA: I do want to remind our viewers, according to CNN's count, Bill Cosby was accused by more than 50 women in terms of different types of inappropriate behavior. Again, though, this case, in which he was convicted, stemmed from one accuser's account of what he did to her.

That was Andrea Constand. This was all related to an incident that happened in 2004 when Andrea Constand was a Temple University employee, which she accused him of drugging her and sexually assaulting her in his home. Again, that was in 2004. So, the statute of limitations was a big part of this case as well.

And I was just doing a quick Google to our previous reporting and this was an article from about a year ago, June of 2020, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed Bill Cosby's team to appeal his conviction. And at the time, it said there were two issues in which he was able to appeal this case.


One had to do with the prior bad act witnesses, which Elie was talking about. Some of those other accusers who testified about alleged assaults that weren't directly a part of Andrea Constand's case. And then the other issue focused on the prior district attorney's decision at the time not to charge Bill Cosby a decade ago when this happened to Andrea Constand.

And so I just wonder, how common, Elliot Williams, are the prior bad act witnesses? I mean, is it typical for people if this is one of the reasons why the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is saying this conviction should be overturned because these prior bad act witnesses testified and they shouldn't have? I mean, is that unusual for these people to have testified?

WILLIAMS: That's a great question, Ana, and that's sort of what Elie was talking about a little bit earlier. Look, prosecutors flirt with danger a little bit whenever they bring up evidence of conduct that a defendant might have engaged in prior to the thing that he or she is being charged with.

Now, look, you can use evidence at certain times to establish a pattern. So, this was the way this person carried out a certain type of event again and again and again. But as a pattern, the problem is that this is what the law does. It puts in jury's minds the notion that if this person committed those crimes, he must necessarily have also committed these crimes.

Now, the tricky thing with Bill Cosby is, again, he actually did commit those other crimes, but the way trials work is that he was charged with and being tried for one particular offense, and that was the assault of Andrea Constand, right?

And so it's dangerous territory to start wading into because, yes, it is important to establish a pattern and can be legally useful to do so, but once you start putting in the idea that this individual is a bad person and you should convict him because he's a bad person, that really runs the risk of bringing a conviction getting overturned, and that's what we saw here.

CABRERA: And let me go back to Brynn Gingras, who's been going through the documents. Brynn, what more are you learning about the court's reasoning?

GINGRAS: Yes. So, essentially, what they're saying is that there was an agreement with the previous prosecutor in this case, Castor, who prevented him from being charged criminally. So he was then able to sit down in a civil deposition, which was then later used in the criminal trial. And that's what they're saying was not fair and why it was overturned.

Let me read the language to you. It says, D.A. Castor decided that the commonwealth would decline to prosecute Cosby for the incident involving Constand, thereby allowing Cosby to be forced to testify in a subsequent civil action under penalty of perjury without the benefit of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

Unable to invoke any right not to testify in the civil proceedings, Cosby relied upon the district attorney's declination and proceeded to provide four sworn depositions. During those depositions, Cosby made several incriminating statements.

So it seems to be that paragraph, that is the crux for this decision and why we may soon see Cosby get out of jail.

CABRERA: Wow. So, Areva, learning that, if I'm understanding it correctly, and please correct me if I'm misunderstanding it, but it sound like it was because they used Cosby's own words from these civil cases that it prevented him from essentially pleading the fifth. Is that how you interpreted that?

MARTIN: Absolutely, Ana. We always knew that that former D.A.'s agreement with Bill Cosby not to prosecutor him criminally could be potentially problematic. We knew that the witnesses that weren't on trial, whose cases weren't on trial, having them testify, as much as we wanted to have those witnesses come forward, we knew that was potentially problematic.

But this agreement by the district attorney with Bill Cosby, his legal team saying, we won't prosecute you, that allowed him to move forward with that civil deposition and to give testimony and to make statements as the court order says that Bill's statements that were incriminating, and then to be able to use those incriminating statements to actually then come back when there's a new district attorney to file criminal charges against him, this was always going to be an area of concern.

And I'm sure the current prosecutor knew that there was a potential for the decision, the conviction being overturned on appeal because prosecutors have a lot of authority, they have a lot of power. So, imagine a prosecutor saying to a potential defendant, you can go forward, you can talk about this case, you can give testimony under the penalty of perjury without the worry of ever being criminally prosecuted.

And yet someone else gets elected some years later and that promise is revoked and now you find yourself facing criminal prosecution and those very words that you gave in a civil deposition now being used against you.

So, not at all surprised that the appellate court had a distaste for how this entire matter was handled by that former prosecutor.


CABRERA: So many twists and turns, and we're continuing to through the documents. We're obviously seeking reaction from accusers of Bill Cosby. And we will continue to stay on top of this story, bring you updates as we learn them.

Elie, Elliot, Areva and Brynn, my thanks to all of you for joining us.

And, again, we'll wait to see when Bill Cosby walks out of jail.

In the meantime, there is another major story we are working on today, the frantic search for survivors in that deadly building collapse in Surfside. Wolf Blitzer is there. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly is frantic right now. And the death toll, sadly, Ana, continues to rise right now, 16 confirmed dead here. It's just gone up by four. 147 people still unaccounted for.

This is day seven. The search and rescue operation continues. We'll have all the late-breaking developments coming up right after this.



BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Surfside, Florida. The death toll here -- sadly, the death toll is climbing as crews recover more bodies from the rubble. 16 people are now confirmed dead. 147 people still unaccounted for. They are missing.

The search is now in day seven. Time and hope for survivors quickly running out on this day seven.

I want to bring in CNN's Rosa Flores for the latest on the search and rescue operation. It's not yet a recovery operation. It's a rescue operation. There's still hope.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's still hope. A press conference just wrapped up. I actually caught up with Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levin Cava right after to get the latest details, Wolf, first, about the tunnels that the commander of the Israeli team told our colleague, John Berman, earlier today. She says that this was indeed a sign of hope that they continue to follow these tunnels and voids looking for signs of life.

Then I also asked her about the personal belongings that are being recovered from this site, because we learned yesterday that the debris is being sorted. We know that it's being taken to a Florida Department of Transportation site and it's being preserved as evidence. But, of course, the families want to know about the precious personal belongings of their loved ones, jewelry, clothing, any kind of item that belongs to their loved ones.

Well, according to the mayor, she says that these items are being placed in bins, they're being sorted, they're going to be catalogued. All of it is evidence for now, but she says that those items are being recovered and they are preserved.

Then about the emotion at this press conference, Wolf, the fire chief became emotional. He said, it is very tough for them right now and it's also very dangerous.

They also spoke about the contingency plans for the two storms that they're monitoring. Now, this is, of course, a huge concern because, as you can see everything behind us, once rain starts rolling in, and it's been rolling all day long, the concrete becomes very slippery. The situation becomes very dangerous. That was his concern for the men and women that are risking their lives right now to try to save lives.

The state of Florida saying that they do have contingency plans, they're bringing in personnel, they're bringing in more equipment to make sure that they can continue this operation and respond to storms anywhere in the state of Florida. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, this storm is a real problem. All right, Rosa, thank you very much. You're doing excellent reporting, as usual.

We're watching these storms right now. I've been speaking to officials, they are so deeply concerned that with bad weather -- and it's been raining for much of today and sometimes pretty torrential rain -- they are so deeply concerned that that will undermine the search and rescue operation.

And they keep calling it a search and rescue operation, not a search and recovery operation, recovery, meaning there's no more hope there will be survivors. And there are still 147 people who are still unaccounted for.

Joining us now is the chairman of Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners Pepe Diaz. Chairman Diaz, thank you so much for joining us.

What's the latest on this day seven in the search and rescue operation?

JOSE DIAZ, CHAIRMAN, MIAMI-DADE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: You know that we have 16 bodies have been recovered, unfortunately, not with life, but that is the latest. We have another team coming from another team one. That is the team coming from Virginia, which hopefully will be here by the end of the day or night. And we're continuing to work no matter how much the weather is bad for us or whatever it is.

BLITZER: It's pretty bad right now.

DIAZ: It is. It's been constant. And earlier, you saw the amount of lightning that was hitting in the area. So, we'll still continue. The lightning is the only time we have to stop. But it's nonstop for us. We'll continue 24/7.

BLITZER: As you should. And the men and women who are working with you, I keep saying this, they are heroes. They themselves are risking their lives to help find survivors. Are you still hopeful that after day seven, it's been almost a week?

DIAZ: Yes, I am. I've seen this happen in other places before where they find somebody so many X amount of days that they weren't expected to find anybody, and they have. And I saw that in Haiti in Haiti in the earthquakes, when after nine days, they found a baby alive.

[13:25:03] And there's hope. And that's what we have to give the citizens, the families, the people that are here that, they need that hope. It's very hard for them, very, very hard.

BLITZER: But is it a false hope? Because that's -- I've been speaking to family members. They are praying. They are hopeful. But many of them are now beginning to say to me, you know what, they're moving on, they have to deal with reality. They want to celebrate and remember the lives of their loved one.

DIAZ: That's each family member. I also met many of them that say, I hope to God that my daughter is alive and please keep working as hard as you can, please don't stop. And you hear all sides and it breaks your heart because you want to help them all and try to find solutions and hope that we could get through this done immediately and help everybody. But, unfortunately, it's a very slow process. As I said before, the weather and so many obstacles --

BLITZER: This rain is not good. This is going to undermine it.

DIAZ: Not at all.

BLITZER: The men and women who are involved in the search and rescue operation, how are they holding up?

DIAZ: You know, they have hope, they're energized to keep working hard. And you see the speed. They're going as fast as they can within the slow conditions that they have.

But you can see it in their face, it's hard for them. And there's so many different ones there, from -- this is our team one, Task Force One and Two, and all the teams in Florida, the Israeli team, all of them have come up and are working, they all have that sense of pride to work as hard as they can to find somebody, and they're professionals. And like you said, they're heroes. They put their own lives in jeopardy. And some of those places, you would really have to think twice to try to go in to where they're at and working.

So, yes, they're coping, they're professionals and their spirit is high.

BLITZER: How are your conversations with them going?

DIAZ: Good, good. I see them, I meet with them, I try to break bread with them, I talk to them, I thank them. I don't think in my whole life I've said so many thank yous to so many people for doing the job that they're doing. And that's our goal here, is to be supportive and help in any way we can.

BLITZER: How are you comforting the family members?

DIAZ: Well, we have tried everything. The mayor has worked hard in bringing in all the different entities. I forget how many there is now, like 27, 28 entities, to help the family members, doing all they can, also making sure that their needs are met, the hotels, everything that they need to have so they could feel as comfortable as they can in such a hard moment in their life.

And we're doing everything we can as a government and I know that the state has come in, federal government is helping where they can. Everybody has worked hard to try to find solutions.

BLITZER: I hope the weather gets better.

DIAZ: So do I.

BLITZER: It's an awful situation. Jose Pepe Diaz, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all your important work.

DIAZ: Yes, thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Very, very sad story, Ana. And the longer I stay here, it's so powerful. You have to realize the real fear, uncertainty and anger that these families are going through right now. They're wondering how could this have happened here in the United States.

CABRERA: So many questions, not enough answers and too much time lapsing. And we're seeing Mother Nature now bearing down again in that area. Thank you, Wolf, for that reporting. We'll check back

Our other breaking news this hour, Bill Cosby set to be released from prison after his sex assault conviction is overturned. Up next, I'll speak with Lisa Bloom, who represents three of Cosby's accusers, including Janice Dickinson, who testified at his trial.

Stay with us.