June 12, 2017 / 10:56 PM / 2 years ago

Cosby lawyer employs tough cross-examinations, dramatic style

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Defense attorney Brian McMonagle’s arguably biggest courtroom drama, the sex assault trial of entertainer Bill Cosby, has been a legal rematch with prosecutor Kevin Steele, who was on the opposing - and losing - side of a nearly identical 2014 rape case.

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby leaves with his spokesman Andrew Wyatt (R) and lawyer Brian McMonagle after the second day of his sexual assault trial at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pennsylvania. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

In the Cosby trial, McMonagle, 58, wielded his signature defense style, aggressive cross-examinations and a theatrical closing argument, to make his case while calling just one witness on Monday.

A veteran of the Philadelphia legal scene, he made his name in the district attorney’s office prosecuting high-profile murder cases before moving into private practice in the early 1990s. McMonagle, who went to Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, has won hundreds of acquittals defending mobsters, rappers and athletes.

People familiar with McMonagle’s past work said he was a natural choice to defend Cosby, 79, in state court in Norristown, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb.

Christopher Hall, a former federal prosecutor in the Philadelphia, said McMonagle was well known for his skill at cross-examination.

“It requires tremendous concentration and command of the facts, and the ability to synthesize that in real time,” Hall said.

“There’s also an element of affability. I call it emotional intelligence. Brian has that emotional intelligence.”

For Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney, McMonagle’s most rattling win may have been the 2014 rape case. The defense attorney secured the dismissal of aggravated indecent assault charges against a high-powered lawyer who was accused of drugging and raping a female employee.

It is the same charge that Steele is asking a jury to find Cosby guilty of after the performer was accused of giving pills to Andrea Constand and sexually assaulting her in 2004.

The 2014 case never went to trial after McMonagle succeeded in highlighting flaws in police evidence gathering, including a report that suggested the victim had been given a drugged glass of wine.

McMonagle used a similar approach in Cosby’s trial, hammering the credibility of expert witnesses while avoiding taking direct aim at the alleged victims. He opted to let female colleague Angela Agrusa cross-examine Constand and a witness, Kelly Johnson, who also said Cosby sexually assaulted her.

His other high-profile successes include the defense of a Roman Catholic archbishop accused of covering up sex assault by clergy in Pennsylvania, a former deputy attorney general facing homicide charges and the acquittal of the city’s deputy mayor in one of the largest U.S. federal corruption cases.

McMonagle tends to play the jury dramatically, raising his voice in exasperation at testimony he does not believe and gesturing.

In his closing argument on Monday, McMonagle asked jurors, “If I did anything or said anything that offended any of your number, hold it against me,” not Cosby. “Sometimes I wear emotions on my sleeve. That isn’t always a good look for a lawyer.”

Additional reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Trott

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