Key prosecutor says allegation of racism in Cosby case ‘completely offensive’

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Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden (right) and accuser Andrea Constand react at a news conference after Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for sexual assault Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa.

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden (right) and accuser Andrea Constand react at a news conference after Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years for sexual assault Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Entertainer Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years in state prison. Judge Steven O’Neill also found Cosby to be a sexually violent predator, meaning even after serving his punishment, Cosby will have to be on a sex offender registry. Kristen Gibbons Feden worked as a key member of the prosecution team for both the initial trial last year which ended in a hung jury and the retrial which produced the conviction in April. Feden now is an attorney with Stradley Ronon and took a leave from the firm to help prosecute the second trial, but has been waiting until after sentencing to grant interviews.

Welcome, Kristen. 

Hi. Thank you Mary for having me.

So what is your reaction to this sentence?

You know I never take anyone’s liberty or freedom being taken from them lightly, but in this particular case the judge’s words were very touching. He spoke directly to Andrea [Constand] and he spoke directly to Bill Cosby and he told them this type of conduct will not be excused and sent a message to Bill Cosby that this was not going to be OK.

Cosby was declared to be a sexually violent predator. What does this mean for him moving forward?

What it does is an individual in the state of Pennsylvania is classified or identified as a sexually violent predator what that means is that they have a mental abnormality that makes them likely to engage in predatory behavior. And that’s actually a legal construct not really in the mental health sense though that is somewhat instructive and guiding in that determination. But what it does is it enhances his registration requirements. And so you know should he be released on parole after serving a period of confinement, no less than three years obviously as you know the sentences three to 10, he will have to undergo counseling monthly, he will have to register even though this is already a lifetime registration, he’d have to register for the rest of his life. And what that does is it puts the community on notice that there is a sexually violent predator in the community, and it allows you to remain safe and to put your guard up.

Bill Cosby’s defense team says it is appealing the conviction. His spokesman Andrew Wyatt calls the trial the most racist and sexist in the history of the U.S. What are your thoughts, Kristen?

You know I’m deeply saddened that he would categorize this trial in this manner. And I think it’s really important for the public to remember the things that Andrew Wyatt is not saying, which is, that this man in his statement to the police admitted to giving an intoxicating substance to Andrea Constand without identifying what that substance was, and he admitted in his deposition to very heinous things such as obtaining seven prescriptions for quaaludes that he never intended to use and obtaining quaaludes for the sole purpose of having sex with women. So for him to categorize this trial as sexist and racist is completely offensive.

Kristen, you were the only woman at the prosecutor’s table to the best of my understanding correct?

Yeah, at the prosecutor’s table, but I must say not in the prosecution team.

OK. Does gender in your opinion make a difference in the prosecution of a case like this?

Absolutely, I think diversity as a whole always makes a difference in any type of process whether it be in the prosecution well be in litigation or any decision making role. Absolutely.

The first trial ended in a mistrial last year as we mentioned and this was just before the #MeToo Movement got rolling. In your opinion Kristen Feden did the #MeToo Movement make a difference in getting a conviction in the second trial? 

I will say that when the jury was voir dired, and that’s the questioning process so that both sides can make the determination of whether or not that juror can be fair and impartial, that question was asked of every single juror that was then sworn into to make a determination in this case. And every juror said that if they knew about the #MeToo Movement they would be able to put it aside and make a fair and impartial decision based solely on the evidence that would be presented at trial. I think the #MeToo Movement is such an amazing and powerful movement, but I do believe that the jury was able to make a determination based on a fair and impartial evidence that was presented at this trial.

When people, women in this case come forward and accuse someone who was as beloved as Mr. Cosby was, those who claim they were victimized can be the subject of a lot of vitriol. What would you say to people who might automatically say “I don’t know if I can believe you?” 

You know I would ask them, “Why”? And a lot of times those reasons have nothing to do with the incident of sexual assault and have everything to do with a lot of the things that we had to educate the jury about and that’s called rape myth. They try to discredit the woman. They tried to shame, humiliate and blame her. They criticize her or him and because victims can be him or, they criticize a victim for not reporting soon enough. They criticize every single step of the behavior without holding the individual accountable, without even in most cases eliciting facts about that night or day or whatever of the incident. And so I would have to talk to that person and say, “Why”? “Why would you automatically disbelieve or discredit an individual who is coming forward with a shameful, humiliating act that they are now disclosing to to the public and being have and as a result having to pay the price of scrutiny?”

Give us a sense of what it was like to work as part of the prosecution team. What were were the hours like for you? What was the preparation like, the frustration? The sense of mission if any? 

Absolutely. I have to say we had such a great prosecution team. It was long hours as you can imagine. It’s long hours with any type of case of this magnitude not just because of who the defendant was, but sex crimes are very serious and severe and they carry with it hefty penalties. And so a lot of times when we are preparing cases like this for trial you have to kind of put your all into it. It was a lot of sacrifice. I’m a mother to young boys and it was a lot of sacrifice for my family. But I was lucky enough to have a lot of support, and I was extremely lucky enough to have such a great intelligent, intellectual, wonderful prosecution team. And it wasn’t just [District Attorney] Kevin Steele and [Assistant District Attorney] Stew Ryan and myself. We had an amazing appellate unit that kept this in court that argued for the prior bad acts to be admitted, that argued for the defendant to have the opportunity for the court to hear him being deemed as a sexually violent predator which was the constitutionality of that statute. So even though I can’t lie to you it was very difficult, it was very challenging, it was a lot of work and a lot of effort, but there was a lot at stake here and we had a great team working together.

Anything you would change differently looking back about the way this particular case was prosecuted?

Not a thing. Not a thing.

What next for you, Kristen Gibbons Feden. 

Well, as you know I’ve left the prosecutor’s office. I’m now an attorney at Stradley Ronon. I’m doing a lot of employment and labor work which would appear to be somewhat substantially different, but it’s a lot of internal investigations which is something you know that I’ve been doing throughout the most of my legal career. I’m in the litigation department so I’m doing courtroom things which is the same exact thing that I was doing the prosecutor’s office. I’m not really doing any criminal defense work. Although I’m doing some internal investigations involving some white collar matters.

Kristen, we got to stop you right there because we’re out of time, but it was a pleasure to speak with you on Morning Edition. 

Thank you so much, Mary.

Kristin Gibbons Feden was a member of the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office prosecution team in the Bill Cosby case. She spoke with WHYY’s Mary Cummings Jordan.

 

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