Thursday, December 31, 2015

Prosecution Of A Legend

Opinions vary as to why in November Kevin Steele, seeking to replace then-District Attorney Lisa Vetri Fermin, defeated one-time District Attory Bruce Castor:

"It's a shame" that Cosby became a campaign issue, said Constance Carrier, 80, of Lower Merion.

She said she voted for Steele because she disagreed with Castor's politics.

"It has nothing to do with whether or not he should have prosecuted Bill Cosby," she said.

Dan West, 48, a Democrat from Bridgeport, said he voted for Castor because he was turned off by Steele's TV ads criticizing Castor's handling of the Cosby case.

"To a very large degree, I thought the ads were distasteful," West said.

Steele is a Democrat, while Fermin and Castor are Republicans. This matters because counties in Pennsylvania, as in too many other states, elects its chief county prosecutor, known as the District Attorney. Citing insufficient evidence, Castor had declined to prosecute the comedian.

Prosecution of Cosby for aggravated indecent sexual assault against Andrea Costand (who at the time was in a relationship with a woman, which does not help the defense) now has been enabled, evidently with evidence which was not to have been made public. (In the video below, Dan Abrams contends crucial evidence was supposed to be sealed.), The New York Times explains

court documents and the deposition from a civil suit filed by Ms. Constand in which Mr. Cosby acknowledged he had given women quaaludes as a party drug in his efforts to have sex. Some court records were sealed when the civil case was settled in 2006 but were released by a federal judge in July.

 This is  just fine with Christina Cauterucci, who concludes in Slate

“Reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers,” Steele said in a press conference on Wednesday. “After examination of all the evidence, we are able to seek justice on behalf of the victim.” It took a jab from male comedian Hannibal Buress to get the public to fully grapple with allegations against Cosby that had been around for a decade, and it may take Cosby’s own admission to drugging women before sex to force any legal action against him. Outrageous though that may be, a criminal conviction that allowed us to stop using the word “alleged” to qualify abuses detailed by more than 50 women would be a decisive validation of stories too easily brushed aside for far too long.

In a statement, Cosby's criminal defense attorney maintained

The charge by the Montgomery County District Attorney's office came as no surprise, filed 12 years after the alleged incident and coming on the heels of a hotly contested election for this count'ys DAduring which this case was made the focal point. Make nomistake, we intend to mount a vigourous defense against this unjust charge and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by acourt of law.

The defense team projects optimism of the final outcome and refers to the "unjust charge," which is not a claim that the incident did not occur as charged but merely that the defendant, a 78-year-old man who walks with a cane and has been active in philanthropic activities for decades, should not have been charged.

If the evidence warrants it, the arrest of Bill Cosby was justified. If convicted- and the circumstances warrant it- Cosby should be incarcerated for what appears to have been a serious offense. But courts should not be used to assuage conscience or anger. They should not  be used to pursue "a decisive validation of stories too easily brushed aside for far too long."

Nor should they be used as a political football. They are, of  course, in states which foolishly hold elections for court personnel (such as judges) and law enforcement personnel (such as district attorneys).  Pursing the Constand case against Cosby may be fully merited. But the reason should not be that a candidate in an election accused his opponent of giving a pass to the comedian some nine years ago. Justice is too important for that.

The prosecutors need to have considered the end game, consequences of an acquittal or conviction. In the latter case, sentencing should consider, that

Cosby’s ominously titled “Far From Finished” tour made him boatloads of cash before ending in May, and gave his supporters a way to show their love. Even as protesters have mobbed Cosby’s appearances, most theaters have been forced to honor their standing contracts with him or face expensive lawsuits from the comedian. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art has kept its Cosby-glorifying exhibition of Bill and Camille’s private collection on view for more than a year.

This is not a man in the throes of excruciating remorse.  However, if and when he is found guilty, the pleas for mercy, due to age, infirmity, a lifetime of achievement and service, or regret expressed between verdict and sentencing will be considerable. Hopefully, Cauterucci- who in the paragraph above inadvertently began to make a case for severe punishment-  and others clamoring for prosecution understand that conviction probably should mean that Bill Cosby die in prison.

The voters of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, generally well-educated and informed, nevertheless have no idea who would be the better, or even more zealous, District Attorney. If justice- whatever that might be- for Bill Cosby is an uphill battle, removing politics from the criminal justice system anytime soon is a far steeeper climb.

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