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Credibility Will Be Paramount Element Of Cosby Sexual Assault Case

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Matt Rourke
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AP Images

Earlier this week, a Pennsylvania judge determined that comedian Bill Cosby would stand trial for an alleged sexual assault that took place in 2004.  

The case concerns Temple University employee Andrea Constand, who was the first person to publicly accuse Cosby of sexual assault. Since then, more than 50 other women have come forward with similar stories.

Wes Oliver, criminal justice program director at Duquesne University, said the charges are a result of Montgomery County’s new district attorney, Kevin Steele.

“The new DA basically ran on a platform of prosecuting Bill Cosby. That new DA won, and now he’s being prosecuted.”

The previous prosecutor, Bruce Castor Jr., arrived at an understanding with Cosby suggesting that he would not be prosecuted if he was forthcoming during a deposition. Oliver said nothing on paper supports this, as would typically be the case.

“If there was this type of an arrangement, it was done so far under the table that the law is not going to recognize it,” Oliver said.

Oliver said he was surprised Cosby’s legal counsel would have allowed him to testify in the absence of a written agreement. In the evidence provided by the attorneys, Castor said, “I am not prosecuting.” The former prosecutor told the court that also implied that no one could subsequently prosecute.

“That was a very strained legal analysis by most of us who were observing,” Oliver said.

He said the new district attorney filed the charges at the earliest possible moment as the twelve-year statute of limitations approached.

“If they had delayed even a few months in filing this, the statute of limitations would have, in fact, run,” Oliver said.

He said that because there is no physical evidence, the case will come down to credibility and whether the jury finds Cosby more credible than his accuser.

“The real issue in resolving that credibility against Cosby is going to turn on how many, if any, of the other alleged victims get to testify,” Oliver said.

Pennsylvania courts liberally accept the testimony of other victims with similar stories, Oliver said, which is the case in most states. He said those whose alleged assaults occurred more recently and under similar circumstances are the most likely to be brought in as witnesses.

“I do think these women are going to be allowed to testify,” Oliver said. “That will change the dynamic of the jury substantially.”

There is also the issue of finding an impartial jury. Oliver said asking potential jurors if they can fairly hear the case despite what they may have heard in the media is the standard. Studies have shown that previous knowledge does affect a juror’s judgement, but cases like Cosby’s and previously O.J. Simpson’s benefit from a looser standard.

“Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson cannot be immune from deposition just because they’re famous,” Oliver said.

He said it’s difficult to tell how soon the trial will commence. With the Jerry Sandusky case, prosecutors rushed to try Penn State officials, but Sandusky’s own proceedings have been delayed for several years. Oliver expects Cosby to receive a 10-year sentence if convicted.

“And for a man of his age, that’s life,” Oliver said.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.