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Bill Cosby Freed From Prison, His Sex Conviction Overturned

Pennsylvania’s highest court threw out Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction and released him from prison Wednesday in a stunning reversal of fortune for the comedian once known as “America’s Dad,” ruling that the prosecutor who brought the case was bound by his predecessor’s agreement not to charge Cosby.Cosby, 83, flashed the V-for-victory sign to a helicopter overhead as he trudged into his suburban Philadelphia home after serving nearly three years of a three- to 10-year sentence for drugging and violating Temple University sports administrator Andrea Constand in 2004.The former “Cosby Show” star — the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era — had no immediate comment.Cosby was arrested in 2015, when a district attorney armed with newly unsealed evidence — the comic’s damaging deposition in a lawsuit filed by Constand — brought charges against him just days before the 12-year statute of limitations was about to run out.But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Wednesday that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby, though there was no evidence that promise was ever put in writing.Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the previous district attorney’s decision not to charge him when the comedian gave his potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil case.A policeman patrols past the home of Bill Cosby in Elkins Park, Pa., Wednesday, June 30, 2021. Pennsylvania’s highest court has overturned comedian Cosby’s sex assault conviction.The court called Cosby’s subsequent arrest “an affront to fundamental fairness, particularly when it results in a criminal prosecution that was forgone for more than a decade.” It said justice and “fair play and decency” require that the district attorney’s office stand by the decision of the previous DA.The justices said that overturning the conviction, and barring any further prosecution, “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”As Cosby was promptly set free from the state prison in suburban Montgomery County and driven home, his appeals lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said he should never have been prosecuted. “District attorneys can’t change it up simply because of their political motivation,” she said, adding that Cosby remains in excellent health, apart from being legally blind. In a statement, Steele said Cosby went free “on a procedural issue that is irrelevant to the facts of the crime.” He commended Constand for coming forward and added: “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.”Constand and her lawyer did not immediately return messages seeking comment. “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” the actor’s “Cosby Show” co-star Phylicia Rashad tweeted.”I am furious to hear this news,” actor Amber Tamblyn, a founder of Time’s Up, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault, said in a Twitter post. “I personally know women who this man drugged and raped while unconscious. Shame on the court and this decision.”In sentencing Cosby, the trial judge had ruled him a sexually violent predator who could not be safely allowed out in public and needed to report to authorities for the rest of his life.Four Supreme Court justices formed the majority that ruled in Cosby’s favor, while three others dissented in whole or in part. Peter Goldberger, a suburban Philadelphia lawyer with an expertise in criminal appeals, said prosecutors could ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for reargument or reconsideration, but it would be a very long shot.”I can’t imagine that with such a lengthy opinion, with a thoughtful concurring opinion and a thoughtful dissenting opinion, that you could honestly say they made a simple mistake that would change their minds if they point it out to them,” Goldberger said.Even though Cosby was charged only with the assault on Constand, the judge at his trial allowed five other accusers to testify that they, too, were similarly victimized by Cosby in the 1980s. Prosecutors called them as witnesses to establish what they said was a pattern of behavior on Cosby’s part.Cosby’s lawyers had argued on appeal that the use of the five additional accusers was improper.But the Pennsylvania high court did not weigh in on the question, saying it was moot given the justices’ finding that Cosby should not have been prosecuted in the first place.In New York, the judge at last year’s trial of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case helped sparked the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison.In May, Cosby was denied parole after refusing to participate in sex offender programs behind bars. He said he would resist the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it meant serving the full 10 years.Prosecutors said Cosby repeatedly used his fame and family man persona to manipulate young women, holding himself out as a mentor before betraying them.The groundbreaking Black actor grew up in public housing in Philadelphia and made a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry that included the TV shows “I Spy,” “The Cosby Show” and “Fat Albert,” along with comedy albums and a multitude of television commercials.The suburban Philadelphia prosecutor who originally looked into Constand’s allegations, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, considered the case flawed because Constand waited a year to come forward and stayed in contact with Cosby afterward. Castor declined to prosecute and instead encouraged Constand to sue for damages.Questioned under oath as part of that lawsuit, Cosby said he used to offer quaaludes to women he wanted to have sex with. He eventually settled with Constand for $3.4 million.Portions of the deposition later became public at the request of The Associated Press and spelled Cosby’s downfall, opening the floodgates on accusations from other women and destroying the comic’s good-guy reputation and career. More than 60 women came forward to say Cosby violated them.The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.
Cosby, in the deposition, acknowledged giving quaaludes to a 19-year-old woman before having sex with her at a Las Vegas hotel in 1976. Cosby called the encounter consensual.On Wednesday, the woman, Therese Serignese, now 64, said the court ruling “takes my breath away.””I just think it’s a miscarriage of justice. This is about procedure. It’s not about the truth of the women,” she said. She said she took solace in the fact Cosby served nearly three years: “That’s as good as it gets in America” for sex crime victims, she said.

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Britain Faces Travel Bans Amid Soaring Delta Variant Infections

Several countries have imposed restrictions on travelers from Britain amid rising cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus. Scientists say the delta mutation is more infectious and now makes up around 95 percent of new cases in Britain. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Zimbabwe Imposes Curfew to Contain Rising COVID-19 Cases

Zimbabwe’s new COVID-19 lockdown includes a curfew, a ban on intercity travel, and a vaccination blitz aimed at border towns and vendors.  But vendors and rights activists say the government should make more vaccine available instead of tightening regulations.President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced the new measures, including a 6:30 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew, on national television Tuesday. He said the restrictions were the result of a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.“Commerce and industry are to open from 0800 hours to 1530 hours. Travelers from countries with alpha and delta COVID-19 variants will be quarantined and tested on the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 10th day, at their own expense. Those deported back to Zimbabwe will be subject to self-quarantine or will be quarantined in identified places. Travelers with fake COVID-19 documents will attract custodial sentences,” said the president.The new measures to contain COVID-19 include what the government is calling a “vaccination blitz” targeting borders and vendors.The head of the Zimbabwe Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation, Samuel Wadzai, has welcomed the new regulations allowing vendors to operate for limited hours.But Wadzai said the vaccination program should be voluntary, not compulsory.“What we can urge the government is for the vaccine to be accessed without queueing for long hours. Let’s decentralize. This is the only way we can do away with these lockdowns. In their nature lockdowns are restrictive and they don’t give us space to operate as informal traders. So, we urge the government to quickly ensure that the vaccines are available,” he said.  About 771,000 Zimbabweans out of a population of 14 million have received their first shots, and 545,000 have received their second inoculations since the program started in February. The country had a monthlong shortage of vaccine until it received 500,000 Sinopharm doses from China on Saturday.People queue for COVID-19 vaccine shots at Zimbabwe’s largest health institution, Parirenyatwa Hospital, in Harare, June 08, 2021. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)Zimbabwe has about 48,533 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,761 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University in the United States, which tracks the global outbreak.Dewa Mavhinga, head of Human Rights Watch in southern Africa, told VOA the infection figures do not justify a dusk-to-dawn curfew.“It seems excessive. The government is focusing more on restrictions than on other efforts that are needed to contain the coronavirus — efforts such as ramping up vaccinations, ensuring that all essential workers are vaccinated and ensuring that the adult population in Zimbabwe is vaccinated. There is no movement in that regard,” said Mavhinga.Zimbabwe’s seven-day average infection rate has increased five times in the last two weeks, according to official figures released this week.The government says it is importing more vaccine in July and in August to achieve herd immunity for about 10 million people by the end of the year.

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Bill Cosby Sex Assault Conviction Overturned by Court

Pennsylvania’s highest court overturned  Bill Cosby’s sex assault conviction Wednesday after finding an agreement with a previous prosecutor prevented him from being charged in the case.
Cosby has served more than two years of a three- to 10-year sentence at a state prison near Philadelphia. He had vowed to serve all 10 years rather than acknowledge any remorse over the 2004 encounter with accuser Andrea Constand.
He was charged in late 2015, when a prosecutor armed with newly unsealed evidence — Cosby’s damaging deposition from her lawsuit — arrested him days before the 12-year statute of limitations expired.
The court said that District Attorney Kevin Steele, who made the decision to arrest Cosby, was obligated to stand by his predecessor’s promise not to charge Cosby when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in Constand’s civil suit. There was no evidence that promise was ever put in writing.
Justice David Wecht, writing for a split court, said Cosby had relied on the former prosecutor’s decision not to charge him when he later gave potentially incriminating testimony in the Constand’s civil suit.
They said that overturning the conviction, and barring any further prosecution, “is the only remedy that comports with society’s reasonable expectations of its elected prosecutors and our criminal justice system.”
The 83-year-old Cosby, who was once beloved as “America’s Dad,” was convicted of drugging and molesting the Temple University employee at his suburban estate.
The trial judge had allowed just one other accuser to testify at Cosby’s first trial, when the jury deadlocked. However, he then allowed  five other accusers to testify at the retrial about their experiences with Cosby in the 1980s.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that testimony tainted the trial, even though a lower appeals court had found it appropriate to show a signature pattern of drugging and molesting women.
Cosby was the first celebrity tried and convicted in the #MeToo era, so the reversal could make prosecutors wary of calling other accusers in similar cases. The law on prior bad act testimony varies by state, though, and the ruling only holds sway in Pennsylvania.
The justices voiced concern not just about sex assault cases, but what they saw as the judiciary’s increasing tendency to allow testimony that crosses the line into character attacks. The law allows the testimony only in limited cases, including to show a crime pattern so specific it serves to identify the perpetrator.
In New York, the judge presiding over last year’s trial of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, whose case had sparked the explosion of the #MeToo movement in 2017, let four other accusers testify. Weinstein was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. He is now facing separate charges in California.
In Cosby’s case, one of his appellate lawyers said prosecutors put on vague evidence about the uncharged conduct, including Cosby’s own recollections in his deposition about giving women alcohol or quaaludes before sexual encounters.
“The presumption of innocence just didn’t exist for him,” Jennifer Bonjean, the lawyer, argued to the court in December.
In May,  Cosby was denied paroled after refusing to participate in sex offender programs during his nearly three years in state prison. He has long said he would resist the treatment programs and refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even if it means serving the full 10-year sentence.
This is the first year he was eligible for parole under the three- to 10-year sentence handed down after his 2018 conviction.
Cosby spokesperson Andrew Wyatt called the parole board decision “appalling.”
Prosecutors said Cosby repeatedly used his fame and “family man” persona to manipulate young women, holding himself out as a mentor before betraying them.
Cosby, a groundbreaking Black actor who grew up in public housing in Philadelphia, made a fortune estimated at $400 million during his 50 years in the entertainment industry. His trademark clean comedy and homespun wisdom fueled popular TV shows, books and standup acts.
He fell from favor in his later years as he lectured the Black community about family values, but was attempting a comeback when he was arrested.
“There was a built-in level of trust because of his status in the entertainment industry and because he held himself out as a public moralist,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Jappe, of suburban Montgomery County, argued to the justices.
Cosby had invited Constand to an estate he owns in Pennsylvania the night she said he drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Constand, a former professional basketball player who worked at his alma mater, went to police a year later. The other accusers knew Cosby through the entertainment industry and did not go to police.
The AP does not typically identify sexual assault victims without their permission, which Constand has granted.

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Bangladesh to Lock Down as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Bangladesh starts its most severe lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday with people allowed to leave their homes only in emergencies and soldiers set to patrol the streets to enforce it, as the nation faces a deadly resurgence of COVID-19 infections.The government announced the new measures as the coronavirus surged in recent days, particularly in border areas. Health officials say the national COVID-19 positivity rate is now over 20%. Sunday saw a record number of deaths, with 119, followed by a record number of new cases — 8,364 — set Monday.Along with home confinement, the restrictions include the closure of public transport networks, sending thousands rushing to ferry and bus stations over the last two days to make it home before Thursday.  The Guardian newspaper reports Cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam told reporters troops would be deployed after the lockdown takes effect. He said, “If anyone ignores their orders, legal action will be [taken against] them.”Bangladesh closed its borders when the pandemic hit last year. But many people travelled to and from India illegally anyway, bringing with them new infections. And while India’s situation has stabilized, in Bangladesh, it has escalated.Health officials are concerned the Eid al-adha Muslim holiday at the end of July will only exacerbate the situation. Bangladesh Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research official Dr. ASM Alamgir said that if the Delta variant of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is not already in Bangladesh, it will be by then.  He said that while new infections are currently concentrated around border areas, during Eid millions of people go from the capital, Dhaka, where infections are also on the rise, to village areas.Officials expect Thursday’s lockdown to last at least a week.  Some information in this report is from The Associated Press.

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Economy & business/Silicon Valley & Technology
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Microsoft Exec Says Targeting of Americans’ Records ‘Routine’

Federal law enforcement agencies secretly seek the data of Microsoft customers thousands of times a year, according to congressional testimony Wednesday by a senior executive at the technology company.Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that federal law enforcement in recent years has been presenting the company with between 2,400 to 3,500 secrecy orders a year, or about seven to 10 a day.”Most shocking is just how routine secrecy orders have become when law enforcement targets an American’s email, text messages or other sensitive data stored in the cloud,” said Burt, describing the widespread clandestine surveillance as a major shift from historical norms.The relationship between law enforcement and Big Tech has attracted fresh scrutiny in recent weeks with the revelation that Trump-era Justice Department prosecutors obtained as part of leak investigations phone records belonging not only to journalists but also to members of Congress and their staffers. Microsoft, for instance, was among the companies that turned over records under a court order, and because of a gag order, had to then wait more than two years before disclosing it.Since then, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.” Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, has said the Justice Department will abandon its practice of seizing reporter records and will formalize that stance soon.Burt is among the witnesses at a Judiciary Committee hearing about potential legislative solutions to intrusive leak investigations.  House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in opening remarks Wednesday that the Justice Department took advantage of outdated policies on digital data searches to target journalists and others in leak investigations. The New York Democrat said that reforms are needed now to guard against future overreach by federal prosecutors — an idea also expressed by Republicans on the committee.”We cannot trust the department to police itself,” Nadler said.Burt said that while the revelation that federal prosecutors had sought data about journalists and political figures was shocking to many Americans, the scope of surveillance is much broader. He criticized prosecutors for reflexively seeking secrecy through boilerplate requests that “enable law enforcement to just simply assert a conclusion that a secrecy order is necessary.”Burt said that while Microsoft Corp. does cooperate with law enforcement on a broad range of criminal and national security investigations, it often challenges surveillance that it sees as unnecessary, resulting at times in advance notice to the account being targeted.Among the organizations weighing in at the hearing was The Associated Press, which called on Congress to act to protect journalists’ ability to promise confidentiality to their sources. Reporters must have prior notice and the ability to challenge a prosecutor’s efforts to seize data, said a statement submitted by Karen Kaiser, AP’s general counsel.”It is essential that reporters be able to credibly promise confidentially to ensure the public has the information needed to hold its government accountable and to help government agencies and officials function more effectively and with integrity,” Kaiser said.  As possible solutions, Burt said, the government should end indefinite secrecy orders and should also be required to notify the target of the data demand once the secrecy order has expired.Just this week, he said, prosecutors sought a blanket gag order affecting the government of a major U.S. city for a Microsoft data request targeting a single employee there.”Without reform, abuses will continue to occur and they will occur in the dark,” Burt said.

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Europe, US Warn About Disinformation Campaign Around Russia’s Sputnik V Vaccine 

Efforts are taking place around the world to vaccinate as many people as possible to protect against COVID-19.  Officials are tracking the safety and effectiveness of those efforts, but some medical experts say they aren’t getting the information they need on Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Anush Avetisyan has the story.Camera: David Gogokhia      
Produced by:  Henry Hernandez  

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Former CIA Operative Enrique ‘Ric’ Prado Writing Memoir

A former CIA operative known for his exploits everywhere from Miami to Nicaragua to Afghanistan has a book deal. Enrique “Ric” Prado’s “Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior” will come out next March.  “A lot has been said about the CIA over the years,” Prado said in a statement Wednesday. “And a lot of it has been (expletive). I wrote ‘Black Ops’ to clear the name of my agency. I know the untold sacrifices that have been made for this country by devoted men and women who have served anonymously, as quiet heroes. I’m eager to share those stories now.” His book, subject to government review, was announced by St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan.  Prado spent 24 years in the CIA before retiring in 2004. His assignments ranged from fighting with the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s — even after Congress had cut off U.S. support for the Contras — as they tried to overthrow the Sandinista government, to helping lead the hunt for Osama bin Laden, to overseeing SEAL Team Six missions into Afghanistan. Investigative reports in The Nation and a book by reporter Evan Wright have alleged that Prado has ties to organized crime and drug traffickers in Miami and to shell companies for the private contractor Blackwater. According to St. Martin’s, he is writing the book “to set the record straight about himself, his career and the men and women of his agency.” “In ‘Black Ops,’ Prado shares a harrowing true story of life in the deadly world of assassins, terrorists, spies and revolutionaries and reveals how he and his fellow CIA officers devoted their lives to operating in the shadows to fight a little-seen and virtually unknown war to keep the United States safe from those who would do it harm,” the publisher announced. 
 

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