Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Cosby Files: Who Is 'Prior Alleged Victim Six?'

She is known in court papers as “prior alleged victim six.” But on Friday, the woman who has accused actor and comedian Bill Cosby of uncharged sexual misconduct in 1996 became a central figure in Cosby’s upcoming sexual assault trial when a judge ruled prosecutors can call her to testify against the entertainment icon.

Montco Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Submitted photo
In a one-page order, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled prosecutors can present the testimony of “prior alleged victim six” at Cosby’s trial on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, after plying her with blue pills and wine at his home sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.

So just who is “prior alleged victim six?” Here is what can be gleaned from court papers filed by both the prosecution and defense teams:

The woman, now 55, first met the married Cosby around 1990, when she was 29 and Cosby was 58, through her employment working as an assistant to Cosby’s personal appearance agent, the William Morris Agency. The woman formed what she believed to be “a sincere friendship” and believed Cosby “to be very friendly and fatherly toward her” and Cosby even mentored her on future career plans, District Attorney Kevin R. Steele wrote in court papers.

During the friendship, the woman accepted dinner invitations from Cosby, on occasion even bringing her children, prosecutors said. She also accepted invitations to Cosby’s hotel, where they would discuss future career plans and Cosby would also call her at her home and speak to her family members, Steele claimed in court papers.
Bill Cosby/Arrest Photo

“Over the course of the relationship, never once did defendant make any successful sexual advances toward prior victim number six, but instead used his fame, notoriety and public status to instill trust in her,” Steele wrote.

“However, on one occasion, defendant invited her to his home to read a script for a possible role on a popular show airing on NBC. This was an uncomfortable experience for her because the script ended with her giving a passionate kiss to defendant. She expressed and showed her discomfort and defendant made no sexual advances toward her during that time,” Steele wrote.

Sometime in 1996, still trusting Cosby, according to prosecutors, the woman accepted his invitation to join him for lunch to discuss career goals. Instead, Steele alleged, Cosby would administer an intoxicant and sexually assault her.

When she arrived at Cosby’s bungalow for lunch at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, “to her surprise” Cosby was in his robe and slippers and he informed her that they were ordering lunch to the room. No one else was present, prosecutors claimed.

Cosby, according to prosecutors, offered the woman some red wine, which she declined to drink and then he offered her a white pill so that she could relax.

Montco DA Kevin Steele/Submitted Photo
“He repeatedly insisted that she take the pill with the red wine, convincing her by saying, ‘would I give you anything to hurt you?’” Steele alleged. “After refusing more than once, prior victim number six put the pill into her mouth. Defendant took great efforts to ensure that she ingested the pill, demanding that she open her mouth and lift her tongue. At that request, prior victim number six swallowed the pill.”

After ingesting the pill, the woman became incapacitated, unable to maintain consciousness and completely unable to consent to, let alone resist, Cosby’s unwanted sexual advances, prosecutors claimed.

“During her intermittent consciousness, she recalls being placed in defendant’s bed, next to him, as he lay naked beneath his open robe,” wrote Steele, alleging the woman “did not consent” to the sexual contact that subsequently occurred and that she recalled Cosby “making grunting noises.”

Defense lawyers Brian J. McMonagle and Angela C. Agrusa revealed in court papers that the woman, who they identify as “accuser No. 6,” is a client of well-known celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and they wrote the woman “remembers some lotion and touching but has no memory of having sexual intercourse with Mr. Cosby.”
Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Accuser No. 6 “is the only accuser who was older than Ms. Constand at the time of her alleged incident, and the only accuser on the Commonwealth’s list who self-identifies as African-American,” McMonagle and Agrusa wrote in court papers.

Of the 13 alleged prior accusers who Steele wanted to testify at Cosby’s trial, alleged prior victim six’s allegations are closest in time (1996) to the 2004 allegations put forth by Constand.

When "prior alleged victim six" does take the stand during Cosby's trial it's likely she will have to endure an hours-long line of direct questioning and cross-examination.

Stay tuned. Cosby's trial begins June 5. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Word of the Day: "Sedulous;" or How I Was Schooled by a Judge

It was bound to happen one day.

With a court order from a judge, I was schooled.

On Friday, Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill, with a one-page order, ruled that only one of 13 other women who accuse 79-year-old entertainer Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct can testify against him at his upcoming trial on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted one woman at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

My eyes were midway through the order when it happened.

There it was - the passage, “a sedulous analysis of the proposed evidence.” Huh? I was stymied. I didn’t recall ever hearing the word “sedulous” before, let alone ever using it, and in more than 20 years of being on the court beat, I never saw it recorded in an order.

I quickly turned to my trusty 1979 edition of “The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language New College Edition” for HELP!

Yes, I probably need to update my decades-old reference library, but there it was, nonetheless - “sedulous adj. Diligent; painstaking; industrious. See Synonyms at busy.”

It made sense, since it was obvious the judge took great care in analyzing and weighing his decision in the matter since hearing lawyers’ arguments on the issue during two days of hearings in December. I have no doubt he conducted a “sedulous analysis.”

Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Submitted Photo

No one who has sat through Judge O’Neill’s sentencing hearings can ever say he is not “diligent,” and he is never at a loss for words.

So, thank you, Judge O’Neill, for adding a new word to my vocabulary. Now, if I can only find a way to use it in a news story.

WORD OF THE DAY - Sedulous

Friday, February 24, 2017

Cosby Ruling: Whose Victory? It's Anyone's Guess

Legal insiders had been anxiously waiting for “The Ruling” for weeks and when it finally came on Friday in the Bill Cosby case those working and visiting at the courthouse were talking about it.

Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill ruled that only one of 13 other women who accuse the 79-year-old entertainer of sexual misconduct can testify against him at his upcoming trial on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted one woman at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

In a one-page order, O’Neill ruled prosecutors can present the testimony of “prior alleged victim six” at Cosby’s upcoming trial on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, after plying her with blue pills and wine at his home sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.

Bill Cosby/Submitted Mugshot

Cosby claims any contact with Constand was consensual.

District Attorney Kevin R. Steele had asked the judge to allow a total of 13 other alleged Cosby accusers to testify at the trial, but O’Neill ruled 12 of the women cannot testify.
Montco DA Kevin R. Steele/Submitted Photo

Defense lawyers Brian J. McMonagle and Angela C. Agrusa had fought to keep out the testimony of all 13 women.

Leading up to Friday’s ruling local legal experts I talked to agreed it was a key pretrial battle that could determine the path that the lone criminal prosecution pending against Cosby takes.

So, was it a legal victory for prosecutors or defense lawyers? Both sides are probably claiming victory.

But it’s anyone’s guess, really.

Some believed the entire Cosby case boiled down to that one issue and the more testimony from alleged other victims that came in, the more helpful it would be to the prosecution.

Steele had argued he needed the testimony of the 13 other alleged accusers to prove Constand’s claim that she did not consent to sexual contact with Cosby and to counter inevitable defense attacks on Constand’s credibility at trial. Steele said the testimony was needed to prove Cosby engaged in “a common scheme.”

Some experts believe having testimony from even just one other alleged accuser is a big benefit for prosecutors and is “incredibly damaging” for a defendant.

“Once juries start to hear about a person’s other conduct, which is something that’s always in the back of their minds, and they hear about things that a person may have done in the past, that makes it a tough hill to climb (for the defense),” one lawyer told me recently.

Now that prosecutors have convinced the judge to allow one other alleged accuser to testify at trial, have they succeeded in bolstering their case against Cosby?

But other legal insiders told me the entire goal of the defense from Day One was “to keep as much of that, if not all of it, out as is certainly possible.” Certainly, the ruling will force prosecutors to have to rely more on Constand’s words and the credibility of her testimony in their quest for a conviction.

Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
McMonagle and Agrusa argued that testimony of 13 other alleged victims of Cosby’s uncharged sexual misconduct would be unfairly prejudicial to Cosby and should not be permitted given that many of the claims were “ancient accusations” from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Now that McMonagle and Agrusa have convinced the judge that the testimony of 12 other alleged accusers should be kept out of the trial – essentially preventing an avalanche of new alleged evidence from coming in - have they succeeded in putting the defense case in a better posture?

Time will tell. Cosby’s trial begins June 5.

I’m sure I’ll hear many more opinions on the subject from legal eagles in the days ahead.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Cirillo To Learn His Fate in May

Disbarred Norristown lawyer Vincent A. Cirillo Jr. will learn his fate May 8 when he’s sentenced for raping an unconscious female client while consulting with her at her West Norriton home. 
Vincent A. Cirillo Jr./Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill filed court papers on Thursday setting Cirillo’s sentencing for 10 a.m. in Courtroom 5. Cirillo, 57, of Lower Merion, who had a law office on East Penn Street in Norristown, faces a possible maximum sentence of 16 to 52 years in prison on the rape-related charges of which a jury convicted him Feb. 17 after a trial that lasted more than a week.

Cirillo, who remains in the county jail without bail pending sentencing, was convicted of charges of rape of an unconscious person, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse of an unconscious person, sexual assault and unsworn falsification to authorities in connection with his sexual assault of an impaired female client at the woman’s residence after a night of drinking on Aug. 3, 2015.

While a jury determined his fate for one crime, Cirillo’s legal troubles are far from over.

Cirillo still faces another trial for allegedly illegally posing as the rape victim’s current lawyer to try to obtain confidential court documents pertaining to her from a Montgomery County Court office. 

Cirillo faces charges of identity theft, conspiracy to commit identity theft, forgery and falsely impersonating a privately employed person in connection with the alleged Sept. 21, 2016, incident.

Cirillo is well-known in county legal circles. Cirillo is the son of the late Vincent A. Cirillo, a former Lower Merion commissioner, county prosecutor and judge who went on to be president judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court from 1986 to 1990.

Stay tuned. I’ll report any developments in the cases.

Friday, February 17, 2017

An Unusual Valentine's Day in Montgomery County Court

It was an unusual state of affairs that couldn’t be overlooked on the third floor of the Montgomery County Courthouse on Valentine’s Day.

In one courtroom, Courtroom A, Judges Risa Vetri Ferman, Joseph P. Walsh and Garrett D. Page presided over the beautiful wedding ceremonies of about 20 couples choosing the traditional day of love to honor their unions.
Ian Drake & Christina Manning of Conshohocken are wed by Judge Garrett D. Page/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Here's the story: Couples say "I do."

Newlyweds Aaron Eugene and Lauren Simmons of Schwenksville with Judge Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

But just 50 feet away, in Courtroom D, President Judge Thomas M. DelRicci presided over a civil hearing for Rafael Robb, the former University of Pennsylvania professor who brutally ended the union with his wife, Ellen Gregory Robb, in their Upper Merion home in 2006.

I went from observing pledges of everlasting love - husbands and wives tying the knot - in one courtroom, to observing the aftermath of a marriage that went sour and turned deadly - a recently released from prison husband forced to also pay financially for brutally killing his wife - in the other courtroom.
Rafael Robb/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

It was a juxtaposition of events that I had not expected that day.

I found myself saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
I’ll choose to remember the goodness of the day, all of those joyful couples who left the courthouse hand-in-hand, smiling about the journey to come, rather than about the 66-year-old Robb, who left the courthouse forever branded a wife killer and all alone.

Congratulations to the county’s judges for coming up with the idea for the special Valentine’s Day wedding program and making it a success. Perhaps it can become a tradition in county court.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Makeovers - Jailhouse Style

One thing I’ve learned working the court beat is that jail certainly can change one’s appearance. Sometimes courtroom observers are shocked at how a defendant’s look changes from the time of arrest to trial.

It’s hard to tell if they purposely change their looks or if the lack of a good barber and hair dyes or styling products in jail forces them to undertake a makeover.

Recently, in Montgomery County there have been examples of what I have dubbed "Makeovers – Jailhouse Style."

Take the case of well-known lawyer Vincent A. Cirillo Jr. for instance. When Cirillo, 57, who had a law office on East Penn Street in Norristown, was arrested and charged in August 2015 with raping an unconscious female client he looked like this:

Vincent A. Cirillo Jr./August 2015 mugshot Courtesy Montco DA's Office

But Cirillo shocked everyone in court last week when he showed up for his trial with a shaved head and without facial hair. 
Vincent A. Cirillo Jr. Feb. 6, 2017/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Among Hollywood stars and in popular culture, I think men often sport shaved heads to project a tough-guy image or confidence. I’m not sure what image Cirillo was trying to project. Cirillo was convicted of rape and is awaiting sentencing in connection with the sexual assault of an impaired female client at the woman’s West Norriton residence on Aug. 3, 2015.  
Gregory Noonan/Dec. 2013 mugshot Courtesy Montco DA's Office

Another disbarred defense lawyer, Gregory Noonan, of Towamencin, totally changed his look between the time he was arrested in December 2013, at age 53, and when he was sentenced to five to 15 years in state prison in April 2015, at age 54, for selling oxycodone to an undercover detective and for stealing more than $87,000 from a civil client.

Gregory Noonan, April 2015/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

I still remember courthouse employees, who had seen Noonan around the courthouse for many years, expressing shock when they saw his drastic change in appearance for the first time. Some didn't even recognize him.

And here's the most recent photo of Noonan, snapped during a January 2017 court appearance.
Gregory Noonan, Jan. 2017/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Then there’s the case of Devon Vogelsang, 24, of Pottstown, a member of the so-called “Brothas From Anotha” gang, who was sentenced Jan. 31 to 15 to 30 years in prison in connection with shootings and other violent acts that occurred in the Pottstown area between November and December 2014.

Vogelsang’s tattooed face caused quite a stir when his mugshot was publicized at the time of his May 2015 arrest.

 Devon Vogelsang/Mugshot May 2015/Photo Courtesy Montco DA's office

But by the time he was sentenced last month, since spending time in county and state prison, Vogelsang appeared to have added a few more tattoos to his face, what looked like an attempt to create a cross on his forehead and several new markings on his cheeks. Sources tell me prison tats are illegal but inmates sometimes secretly use guitar strings or staples and make their own ink to use to create new tattoos.
AFTER - Devon Vogelsang/Jan. 2017/Courtesy Montco DA's Office
In court, Assistant District Attorney Brianna Ringwood used photographs of Vogelsang’s face to carefully review the tattoos he amassed during his young life and to seek a gang enhancement that allowed for increased terms of incarceration for his crimes.

“A life of violence and crime, it has been permanently written all over his face," Ringwood argued.

An undercover county detective testified as an expert on gangs about the meanings behind Vogelsang’s tattoos. Dollar sign tattoos and the words “paper chaser” depicted Vogelsang’s “fascination with money,” the detective testified. The word “Trap” surrounded by dollar signs is a symbol for the culture of selling drugs, the detective said.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Pottstown Gang Busters Honored With Citation

As Montgomery County prosecutors continue to obtain convictions and lengthy prison terms against members of two rival, violent, drug-related gangs that plagued Pottstown between 2014 and 2015, it’s come to my attention the investigative effort has resulted in accolades for law enforcers and prosecutors.

The Citizens Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley recently recognized the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, Pottstown Police Department and the Montgomery County Correctional Facility with a “Multi-Agency Unit Citation” for the “Operation War Ready” investigation that dismantled the two gangs.

The recognition is well-deserved and county detectives with the district attorney’s Violent Crime Unit and Pottstown police can be proud of the work they did, coming to the aid of community members who were pleading for help during the height of the violence. Prosecutors also should be commended for putting together cases that resulted in getting the culprits off the streets and behind bars.

Montco DA Kevin R. Steele/submitted photo
Kudos to District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, his team of prosecutors, Chief County Detective Samuel J. Gallen, undercover members of the Violent Crime Unit and Pottstown Police Chief F. Richard Drumheller and his officers for their outstanding work.

A total of 47 people were arrested in May 2015 after the county’s Violent Crime Unit and Narcotics Enforcement Team and Pottstown police crushed the two rival gangs, “Brothas From Anotha and Straight Cash Money Gun Crew,” operating in the borough and neighboring Berks County. Authorities alleged the gangs were responsible for violent, drug-related incidents dating back to the summer of 2014. The two gangs were identified during an investigation dubbed “Operation War Ready.”

The conflict between the organizations “resulted in numerous shootings and gun battles” during a six-month period, detectives wrote in arrest documents. Authorities said the gangs were connected to illegal narcotics trafficking.

VIDEO: Operation War Ready News Conference

Prior to the collaborative investigation, a total of 17 shootings, a group beating and numerous illegal drug trafficking incidents linked to the gangs occurred in the region. On two occasions, there were multiple shootings transpiring on the same day and the shootings were retaliatory in nature.
Gang member Devon Vogelsang/submitted photo 

Law enforcers with the help of county jail officials gathered intelligence on the suspected gang members and obtained court permission for wiretaps on the suspects’ cellphones.

At one point investigators learned that Straight Cash Money Gun Crew member Alexander “Dot” Scott, armed with a Tec-9 machine gun, was on his way to Pottstown to execute a member of the rival Brothas From Anotha gang. Detectives intervened by plucking the target off the streets on Feb. 28, 2015.

Former District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, now a county judge, previously credited detectives for preventing “the attempted cold, calculated execution of the rival gang member.” Ferman was DA when the operation was launched.
Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

In recent weeks, many of the violent gang members have been convicted of attempted murder, assault and weapons offenses and were sentenced to prison terms ranging from a decade to 57 years. There are still a few more offenders awaiting sentencing.

I think county First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., who handled the cases with co-prosecutors Tonya Lupinacci and Heather Hines, said it best recently after a hefty sentence was handed to one gang member and he praised the joint investigative effort.
Montco First Assistant DA Edward McCann Jr./Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“I think the message it sends is that the Montgomery County DA’s office, the detective bureau, the Pottstown Police Department and Lower Pottsgrove Police Department, none of us are going to tolerate violence in any corner of Montgomery County and if it does occur, we’re all going to work together and ensure that anyone that engages in that kind of behavior is going to be held accountable,” said McCann. “The response is going to be swift. We’re going to do thorough investigations.”

So, congratulations to everyone involved for being recognized by The Citizens Crime Commission of the Delaware Valley. It is well earned.