It started with a press release.
On February 17, 2005, I was sitting at my desk in the Philadelphia Daily News I was finishing my work for the day when I received a fax from the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office, Bruce L. Castor Jr.
It was no ordinary press explosion. Instead, Castor announced that he would not prosecute Bill Cosby for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand.
The fax was time stamped at 5:45 p.m. – I still have it – and it was shocking for several reasons.
Nearly a dozen other women had already come forward – the number would increase in the years to come – saying Cosby had done the same or similar things to them, which briefly led Constand’s lawyers to hope that Castor was indeed going to sue the disgraced comedian after all. .
Not only that, Castor wrote it himself and faxed it to the press himself – a first that the technically challenged prosecutor later testified in court. Constand and his lawyers say he never even bothered to let them know his decision ahead of time.
It also came as a shock to his own detectives, who by that morning had compiled a list of follow-up interviews they wanted to do on the case.
But in any case, shape or form, there was no idea it was anything But A press release. Because, why would it be anything other than what it clearly was?
This would come later, when Castor argued that it was also a promise not to prosecute the since disgraced comedian in exchange for his testimony in a civil case. The bizarre move was the epitome of Bruce Castor and helped make Bill Cosby a free man on Wednesday.
On December 30, 2015, Cosby was arrested and charged with aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Constand at his Elkins Park, Pa., Mansion in January 2004. At that time, Castor was already claiming that This press release was also an agreement never to prosecute Cosby for the crime, and after Cosby’s arrest, his attorneys immediately filed a motion to dismiss based on that very notion.
In February 2016, I saw Castor testify for several hours in a Montgomery County courtroom about this arrangement. The gist of his testimony was that Castor had promised Cosby that he never being prosecuted for this particular crime, which is why Cosby was so “cooperative” during the testimony and waived his Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.
This in itself was a joke, as Cosby barged in at one point, and they had to stop the deposition more than once to file a duress motion, for the judge to force Cosby to answer some questions, like Dolores Troiani, one of Constand’s lawyers, testified later.
Montgomery County Judge Stephen O’Neill, who presided over the two subsequent criminal trials, also presided over that hearing. He looked puzzled, pointing out that under state law a judge must sign an immunity agreement. When did it happen? Where was the proof?
Castor said he told Risa Ferman, who was his first assistant at the time and the prosecutor when she decided to reopen Constand’s case in 2015, to inform Constand’s lawyers of the deal, and assumed she had. However, in emails between him and Ferman in the fall of 2015 that were included as exhibits, Ferman said she had no idea what Castor was talking about.
O’Neill again asked Castor why he had broken state immunity law by reaching a written agreement with the plaintiff’s attorney. Castor insisted he didn’t need anyone’s approval because he was the “ruler” of Montgomery County.
This is where things got really surreal.
“The attorney, under Pennsylvania rules, [is a] Minister of Justice, ”Castor said. “And I didn’t think it was just to go ahead with the criminal prosecution. I wanted there to be some justice. So I made the decision as ruler – not Bruce Castor, district attorney. I am the ruler of Montgomery County. As Ruler, I decided that we would not pursue Cosby, which would then trigger a chain of events that I, as Minister of Justice, would gain some justice for Andrea Constand.
When Constand’s attorneys Dolores Troiani and Bebe Kivitz appeared, they disputed almost everything Castor said – and they did it again wednesday.
In the end, O’Neill spoke out against Cosby’s defense, essentially saying he did not find Castor’s testimony credible and dismissing their motion to dismiss the charges. But Castor stuck with that story, and it ultimately became part of Cosby’s post-conviction appeal.
In the shocking Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to overturn Cosby’s conviction on Wednesday, it ordered Cosby’s immediate release from prison and barred the prosecution from trying him a third time. The court based its decision, of course, on the idea that Cosby relied on a deal with Castor to convey his Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate.
This despite the lack of evidence of an agreement beyond a press release and Castor’s claims.
It was a mind-blowing ending to an affair that has had more than its share of twists and turns since 2005, but I can’t honestly say I was surprised by it. I expected the state Supreme Court to rule in Cosby’s favor after watching the pleadings in December. The judges were openly hostile to the prosecution, and at one point the Chief Justice walked away and turned off his camera.
He was gone for about 10 minutes.
However, I thought the court would decide whether the other five accusers who testified – the so-called 404b witnesses, who spoke of a pattern of predation – should have been allowed to testify against Cosby. The totality press release was an immunity agreement argument sounded frivolous to me, and certainly not credible. Clearly, the state Supreme Court disagreed.
And if he is That’s right, Bruce Castor – who has since, quite rightly, enjoyed a stardom as a disastrous Donald Trump impeachment advocate – has essentially admitted to giving Cosby preferential treatment. What other defendants get personal guarantees from a prosecutor not to be criminally charged? Never? Without a written agreement signed by a judge? And in possible violation of the state’s own laws on how to conduct such agreements?
I was puzzled by Castor’s behavior in 2005 when it came to this matter: the cruel way he treated Constand; his obvious reluctance to fully investigate the allegations against Cosby.
But it seemed that justice had finally prevailed when Cosby was convicted in 2018 – that Cosby’s wealth, power and privilege could no longer protect him from the consequences of his actions.
If nothing else, Wednesday’s decision proved me wrong on this point. Bruce Castor’s fax was indeed the last word.