NORRISTOWN >> Montgomery County prosecutors want to keep the jury weighing Bill Cosby’s fate on sexual assault charges from hearing a former district attorney’s explanation for declining to prosecute the actor in 2005.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele argued in court papers that the opinion of his onetime political rival and former district attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. is not relevant and should not be presented to a jury by the defense team when Cosby’s retrial begins next week.
“There is simply no legitimate, relevant purpose to presenting evidence of Castor’s publicly-stated reasons for declining prosecution, which centered on his alleged opinions about the admissibility and credibility of the evidence. His opinions on those subjects are not remotely relevant,” Steele wrote in court papers.
“Such evidence and argument can only be used to confuse the issues and mislead the jury, as the defense attempted to do at the first trial,” Steele added.
Castor has claimed there wasn’t enough “reliable and admissible” evidence to prosecute Cosby in 2005.
Steele complained that at Cosby’s first trial last June, “the defense repeatedly argued and implied through its questioning of witnesses that Castor’s decision not to file charges represented an expert evaluation that the evidence was insufficiently credible for prosecution and that the jury should rely on that determination.”
Steele complained defense lawyers also implied “that other police, detectives and prosecutors believed the case was incredible and weak.”
In the latest court papers, Steele asked the judge to preclude from the retrial “the assertion that the decision not to file charges in 2005 reflected the opinion of any other law enforcement agents that the victim was incredible or that the evidence was otherwise infirm.”
Judge Steven T. O’Neill could address Steele’s requests to keep Castor’s opinion out of the trial as early as this Thursday when he holds the final round of pretrial hearings before jury selection begins on April 2.
William Henry Cosby Jr., as his name appears on charging documents, faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault in connection with allegations he had inappropriate sexual contact with Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, at his Cheltenham home after plying her with blue pills and wine sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.
Cosby, 80, has maintained his contact with Constand was consensual.
Constand reported the allegations to authorities for the first time in 2005.
After an investigation, Castor, who was district attorney at the time, declined to file charges and issued a press release explaining that he believed there was insufficient credible and admissible evidence to prove Cosby’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Castor was district attorney until 2008 and was succeeded by Risa Vetri Ferman, who remained district attorney until taking office as a judge in 2016.
Prosecutors reopened the Cosby investigation in July 2015 after Cosby’s deposition connected to a 2005 civil suit brought by Constand was unsealed by a federal judge. In that deposition, Cosby gave damaging testimony, allegedly admitting he obtained Quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
Prosecutors charged Cosby on Dec. 30, 2015, before the 12-year statute of limitations expired for the alleged crimes. Steele, who was elected district attorney in November 2015 and took office in January 2016, is leading the prosecution.
Steele and Castor were once political rivals, battling for the district attorney’s post during the sometimes heated campaign in November 2015. Castor, a Lower Salford Republican who served as district attorney from 2000 to 2008, lost his bid regain the seat during the contest with Steele, a Lower Merion Democrat.
During the campaign, Steele, who was then first assistant district attorney, in a 30-second television ad, attacked Castor for not charging Cosby in 2005 when Constand first claimed Cosby sexually assaulted her at his Cheltenham home.
Cosby’s first trial last June ended in a mistrial when jurors could not reach a verdict. Steele immediately vowed to seek a retrial.
Cosby remains free on 10 percent of $1 million bail, pending the retrial and faces a possible maximum sentence of 15 to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The newspaper does not normally identify victims of sex crimes without their consent but is using Constand’s name because she has identified herself publicly.