Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spanish fly Focus of Debate in Montco Court

Never thought I’d see the day when there would be a legal debate in Montgomery County Court having anything to do with Spanish fly.

Sure, it’s previously been mentioned in pop culture, films, TV shows and music, but it’s been years since I’ve heard it mentioned in any kind of public forum. But all of a sudden, due to a few court filings in the Bill Cosby case, Spanish fly is making national news.

I learned a few things about Spanish fly this week from Cosby’s lawyers.

“According to Oxford University, Spanish fly is “[a] toxic preparation of the dried bodies of Spanish fly beetles, formerly used in medicine as a counterirritant and sometimes taken as an aphrodisiac.” An aphrodisiac is “[a] food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire,” defense lawyers Brian J. McMonagle and Angela C. Agrusa wrote in court papers.

McMonagle and Agrusa said Cosby, in his comedic material, developed jokes referencing the substance as an aphrodisiac, most notably in his 1969 album, “It’s True! It’s True!”
Brian J. McMonagle/ Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“The jokes make fun of the high libidos of thirteen-year-old boys and the way they gossip amongst themselves on how to get girls,” defense lawyers wrote, adding in 1991 Cosby authored a book, “Childhood,” which contained “a fanciful tale” of 13 year olds “on an urban quest to obtain the mythical substance to improve their chances with girls.”

In promoting that book, McMonagle and Agrusa said, Cosby appeared on Larry King’s CNN program and rehashed a version of the Spanish fly material that he had developed decades earlier and included in his book.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele sees it a different way.

Montco DA Kevin Steele/Submitted Photo
Cosby’s words came back to haunt him this week when Steele filed papers seeking to use excerpts from Cosby’s book and the “The Larry King Show” as evidence at Cosby’s upcoming trial in connection with his alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a former Temple University athletic department employee, after plying her with blue pills and wine at his Cheltenham home sometime between mid-January and mid-February 2004.

Steele argued the excerpts “are relevant to proving that (Cosby) had knowledge of a date-rape drug, and a motive and intent to use it on the victim” and also suggest Cosby “had a willingness and motive to push ‘chemicals’ to obtain sex from the otherwise unwilling victim.”

Steele, quoting from Cosby’s book, contends the actor recounted a memory from his youth in which he and his friends seek out “Spanish Fly, an aphrodisiac so potent that it could have made Lena Horne surrender to Fat Albert.”

But McMonagle and Agrusa quoted another passage from 'Childhood' - “We were feeling the way that the soldiers of Ponce de Leon must have felt when they began to search for the Fountain of Youth” - to suggest that the antics to which Cosby referred “were centered on a Quixotic adventure through the minds of teenaged boys.”

“The story is about fantasy, not real life, legends created by the active imaginations of teenaged boys,” defense lawyers claimed. “Even one of the passages that (prosecutors) would like to use to condemn Mr. Cosby demonstrates the absurdity of this tale: trying to find ‘an aphrodisiac so potent that it could have made Lena Horne surrender to Fat Albert’ is a comical way of signaling that the boys’ exploits were completely in the realm of fantasy – how else would a glamorous move star ‘surrender to’ a pre-pubescent boy in Philadelphia?”
Bill Cosby Arrest Photo

McMonagle and Agrusa said “Mr. Cosby’s Spanish Fly Shtick” is not a joke about assault, rape or drugging someone.

“The fact that the commonwealth is distorting humor into some menacing plot by divorcing it from its context is exactly the reason why the topic of Spanish fly should be excluded from trial,” McMonagle and Agrusa responded. “This is a form of artistic expression and social commentary. The vast majority of the material he developed over the last fifty years never happened in real life. It was for humor.”

So, is it a “mythical substance," a form of artistic expression and social commentary, the object of “the active imaginations of teenaged boys” and humor that prosecutors are “distorting,” as McMonagle and Agrusa contend?

Or is it a reference to a “date-rape drug” that suggests Cosby “had access to, knowledge of, and a motive and intent to knowingly use substances that would render a female unconscious for the purpose of engaging in sex acts,” as Steele contends?

Montco Judge Steven T. O'Neill/ Submitted photo

We could find out Monday what county Judge Steven T. O’Neill thinks when he holds a hearing to determine if the Spanish fly references made by Cosby will be evidence at his upcoming sexual assault trial.

Stay tuned.

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