Prosecutor on Cosby allegation: 'I thought he did it'

castorcosby600
Bruce Castor (left), former Montgomery County district attorney, and comedian/actor Bill Cosby. (AP, Getty photos)

When Bruce L. Castor Jr., then the Montgomery County district attorney, decided not to file sexual-assault charges against the comedian Bill Cosby in 2005, it wasn't because he didn't believe the woman who said Cosby had drugged and groped her.

"Now I can say I thought he did it," Castor said in an interview Wednesday. "But back then, I would have been accused of tainting the jury that was going to hear the civil case."

Castor's revelation was not entirely new. Since leaving the District Attorney's Office, he has said that he believed a crime occurred but that there was not enough evidence to win a conviction.

But with allegations from several accusers resurfacing against Cosby in recent weeks - and going viral on social media - the former prosecutor's words are getting newfound attention.

On Wednesday, NBC canceled a proposed family-oriented Cosby sitcom, and Netflix this week pulled back from a Cosby stand-up special that was supposed to premiere on Thanksgiving.

Through his attorneys, Cosby denied the allegations in 2005 - the Philadelphia lawsuit filed against him by one accuser was settled out of court - and he did so again this week. The 77-year-old Philadelphia native has refused in interviews to answer any questions about the women.

In the years since the first women went public, Cosby had remained "America's Dad," a figure beloved nationwide and nowhere more so than in his hometown. He has continued philanthropic efforts, lent his personal art collection to the Smithsonian Institution, and given speeches at colleges, funerals, and parades.

In October, he was unanimously reelected to Temple University's board of trustees. Over the summer, a statewide poll ranked Cosby the second-greatest Pennsylvanian in history - behind Benjamin Franklin.

The claims about him have come from more than a dozen women, but much of the attention has focused on Andrea Constand, the only one to take her case to court.

Constand, then 31, was working for Temple's athletic department when she met Cosby, one of the school's most prominent alumni and boosters. Constand told police Cosby invited her to his Cheltenham mansion in 2004 to provide career advice. He gave her a pill, she alleged, and groped her while she felt too groggy to resist.

Castor's office investigated the case and interviewed several women who said they were similarly assaulted by Cosby.

Detectives who interviewed the star "thought he was being evasive," Castor said.

But as Constand waited a year to report the alleged assault, there was no way to trace DNA evidence or drugs in her system, he said.

"The year delay was insurmountable," the former prosecutor said.

After the criminal case was dropped, Constand filed a civil suit, and her attorney said 13 other women had promised to come forward and testify.

Some of those women have since identified themselves, including Barbara Bowman, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post; Tamara Green, a lawyer and former model; and Beth Ferrier, who told the Philadelphia Daily News that Cosby drugged her and left her in a car. Two others - former actress Joan Tarshis and former supermodel Janice Dickinson - came forward this week, alleging that Cosby drugged and assaulted them decades ago.

Cosby's attorneys have denied the claims, calling them "preposterous" and "discredited." (A statement posted on Cosby's website said the denials were not intended to refer to Constand's allegation.)

Castor said Constand's case "probably was the closest in his life that [Cosby] came to getting arrested."

The statute of limitations for such charges typically runs five years.

At the time, Castor took some criticism for not proceeding with the case.

"We find in our agency that sometimes it takes people 10 years to come forward," Carole Johnson, executive director of Women Organized Against Rape, said in March 2005.

Now a county commissioner, Castor said he was surprised to be inundated with calls about the case because nothing about it had changed.

When he announced that no charges would be filed, Castor said, he tried to craft the statement "in such a way that anyone reading it would know he had done something wrong, but . . . I was walking a fine line" to avoid tainting a jury in a civil trial.

Castor also dismissed the notion that the allegations were somehow swept under the rug at the time.

"It was covered hugely," he said, recalling articles from China to Europe and across U.S. media. "Other than some of the murder cases I had, it was covered more widely than any other case I worked on."

Cosby still owns the home where Constand's assault allegedly occurred - a 6,000-square-foot stone mansion built in 1800, about 10 miles north of Center City. He bought the house in 1983 from Fitz Eugene Dixon, heir to the Widener and Elkins fortunes and onetime owner of the 76ers.

If there's one good thing that comes out of the revived allegations, Castor said, it's that with new technology and social media, "there's safety in numbers. . . . It's an incentive for people who are true victims to come forward, by letting them know that it happens more frequently than you think, and that law enforcement will treat it seriously."

 


jparks@philly.com

610-313-8117 @JS_Parks

www.philly.com/MontcoMemo