Temple trustees' chief on Cosby trial: Jury system 'worked'

The chairman of Temple University’s board of trustees – a lawyer who represented Bill Cosby in 2005 against Andrea Constand’s sexual assault claims – said Saturday he respects the Montgomery County jury that considered the criminal case against the comedian.
“I think the integrity of the jury system is good,” said Patrick O’Connor, vice chairman of the Cozen O’Connor law firm. “I think it worked in this instance. And it will continue to work.”

Temple spokesman Brandon Lausch said the university would not be issuing a statement of reaction.

The jury deadlocked after more than 52 hours of deliberations, forcing Montgomery County Court Judge Steven T. O’Neill to declare a mistrial.

Cosby, a Temple graduate, stepped down from Temple’s board of trustees in 2014 under mounting pressure including a Change.org petition, calling on the university to cut ties with its beloved benefactor and longtime public face.

Several trustees in the weeks leading up to his departure spoke out in support of Cosby, noting he had never been convicted. But other segments of the university community, including faculty leaders and some members of the student body, were critical of the entertainer’s ties.

When Cosby stepped down, he also stopped speaking at commencements where he had been a fixture for years.

Word of the mistrial brought conflicting emotions at Temple. For many students, born after the popular Cosby show had finished its run, the comedian was a vague celebrity figure. They knew him more as a university booster than as a television star. Several recalled how Cosby had unexpectedly popped up to give an address to incoming freshmen in 2014, before the scandal reached peak intensity.

“He was very funny. Everyone was super excited. No one knew he would be there until five minutes before,” said senior Cora Vedrad, 21, as she sat outside the campus library on Saturday.

But by the end of that year, at least 20 women had accused Cosby of sexual assault and he had resigned from Temple’s board of trustees, a position he had held since 1982.

Vedrad said Cosby had been accused of “disgusting” crimes and she found it troubling that his misdeeds had been “hidden for all these years.” Yet she said she was not surprised that Constand and other accusers had waited to come forward. “It was about his power,” she said. “People didn’t want to feel they were bringing him down and they feared that no one would believe them.”

Working at a laptop nearby was Temple senior, Deanna Peruto, 23, a niece of well-known Philadelphia defense lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr. She said she found it difficult to differentiate between well-founded accusations and cases in which a woman might be acting on a “vendetta.”

But she, too, said it was understandable that women had delayed in bringing complaints against Cosby. “You’re not going to want to start a war with someone way higher on the food chain,” she said.

Sophomore Ram Rallapalli, 20, said he wasn’t surprised that the jury took so long to deliberate given the competing narratives of the defense and the prosecution. On the one hand, Rallapalli said, “the crimes he has been accused of are just so atrocious,” but on the other hand, he said, Cosby enjoyed such positive reputation from his television legacy. “A lot of people really like the Cosby show and thought there was no way he could do something like this.”

Tristan Rhodeside, 22, who graduated from Temple this year and was already wearing an alumni shirt Saturday, said the outpouring of accusations against Cosby reflected what he called the “call-out culture.”   He said the fusillade had provided a good check upon the abuse of power.

While Rhodeside said he did not rule out that some of the accusers might have lied, he still believed that the case against Cosby was strong.

“With the number of people who have made accusation and the evidence, it is hard for me to see how people could acquit him,” he said.

Trey Lowe, 20, a criminal justice major and member of Temple’s basketball team,  said that juries in sex cases need to weight whether victims who have delayed coming forward were deterred by fear.  He said the defense could argue that accusers were trying to frame the men they named.

Lowe, interviewed on Temple’s main campus in North Philadelphia,  said he welcomed a new trial as a way to provide a definitive statement about Cosby’s guilt or innocence.