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Convictions overturned in Cosby extortion case

NEW YORK (AP) -- Autumn Jackson, imprisoned for allegedly trying to extort $40 million from Bill Cosby by threatening to tell the tabloids she was his illegitimate daughter, could soon be free on bail after a federal appeals court overturned her conviction.

Jackson, 24, was sentenced in 1997 to two years and two months in prison after she was convicted of extortion, conspiracy and crossing state lines to commit a crime. She has served just over half of the sentence.The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled the trial judge improperly instructed the jury on the law of extortion. The court also overturned the convictions of two accomplices for the same reason, ordering the case returned to the lower court for retrial.

Still, the appeals court said "evidence at trial was plainly sufficient to support verdicts of guilty had the jury been properly instructed."

The appeals court said the judge should have told jurors that in order to convict Jackson, they needed to find that she had wrongful intent. That would have allowed the jury to consider whether she truly believed she was Cosby's daughter and therefore did not have any wrongful intent.

One of her lawyers, Robert Baum, said he would ask for Jackson to be freed on bail. Prosecutors indicated they would not oppose the request.

Marvin Smilon, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, said prosecutors hadn't decided whether to appeal the ruling. A lawyer for Cosby said the entertainer would support whatever decision they make.

Prosecutors said Jackson demanded the money from Cosby on Jan. 16, 1997 -- the day Cosby's 27-year-old son, Ennis, was shot to death in a robbery while changing a flat tire on a Los Angeles highway. If Cosby failed to comply, she said, she would tell her story to the supermarket tabloids. The slaying of Cosby's son was unrelated to the alleged plot.

Two days later, Jackson and Jose Medina were arrested in New York in an FBI sting after signing a $24 million payoff agreement with Cosby's lawyers.

The case tarnished Cosby's wholesome image as husband and father when he was forced to disclose that he had an affair with Jackson's mother, Shawn Upshaw, in the 1970s. He had provided her with more than $100,000 in support over the years.

But he repeatedly denied he is Jackson's father, telling jurors that he told her: "I will be for you a father figure, but I am not your father." The issue of paternity was ruled irrelevant to the charges.