Wednesday 18 October 2017

Bill Cosby trial: Former district attorney who declined a decade ago to prosecute Bill Cosby gives evidence

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby arrives for a preliminary hearing on sexual assault charges at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania February 2, 2016.Reuters/Mark Makela
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby arrives for a preliminary hearing on sexual assault charges at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania February 2, 2016.Reuters/Mark Makela

The former district attorney who declined a decade ago to prosecute Bill Cosby has testified that he hoped the decision would free the comedian to give evidence in his accuser's lawsuit and help her win damages.

Cosby did, in fact, go on to give evidence as part of Andrea Constand's civil case, and she eventually settled for an undisclosed amount.

"I did not believe it was just to go forward with the criminal prosecution, but I wanted there to be some measure of justice" for Ms Costand, former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor said.

The evidence came at a court hearing where Cosby's lawyers asked a judge to throw out the sexual assault charges because of what they said was a binding, decade-old commitment from Mr Castor that Cosby would never be prosecuted.

The current district attorney has said he has no record of such an agreement.

Cosby, 78, is charged with drugging and violating Ms Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004. He could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Mr Castor investigated the allegations back then and said he saw serious flaws in the case and decided that Cosby "would not be prosecuted, no matter what".

He said he relayed word to Cosby's then-lawyer, Walter Phillips, in hope of making sure Cosby could not invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying in a lawsuit Ms Constand was filing against him.

However, Mr Castor said the two lawyers did not have "an agreement".

"Mr Phillips never agreed to do anything in exchange for Mr Cosby not being prosecuted," Mr Castor said. "I thought making Mr Cosby pay money was the best I was going to be able to set the stage for."

Phillips is now dead.

Kevin Steele, the newly elected DA who is pursuing the case, has said Cosby would need an immunity agreement in writing to get the case thrown out. He has said he has no evidence one exists.

In a barrage of allegations that have destroyed Cosby's image as America's Dad, dozens of women have accused the former TV star of drugging and sexually assaulting them since the 1960s. But this is the only case in which he has been charged.

Damaging testimony from Ms Constand's lawsuit was unsealed last summer, prompting Mr Castor's successors to reopen the case and ultimately charge Cosby.

Cosby admitted in the deposition that he had affairs with young models and actresses, that he obtained quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with and that he gave Ms Constand three pills at his home. He said he reached into her pants in what he insisted was consensual contact.

Mr Castor defended his decision not to bring charges, testifying that he saw Ms Constand's year-long delay in reporting the allegations, inconsistencies in her statements and her contact with a lawyer before going to police as red flags.

Mr Castor said Ms Constand's delay was of "enormous significance" in his consideration of the case. He said it thwarted his ability to test her hair or fingernails for evidence she was drugged.

Still, Mr Castor said, he investigated the case thoroughly because he wanted to show authorities in Ms Constand's native Canada that celebrities do not get preferential treatment in America.

Anne Poulin, a law professor at Villanova University, said the defence has a high bar to meet to get the case thrown out early on. But "if they can win without this ever going to trial, then they've done their client a big service".

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