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Jury acquits Hatfield man of manslaughter in partygoer’s shooting death
NORRISTOWN >> A Hatfield Township man wiped tears from his eyes as a Montgomery County jury acquitted him of a manslaughter charge in connection with the fatal shooting of another man during a disturbance at a party at his home.
“I’m just pleased with the verdict. That’s pretty much it, I’m pleased with the verdict,” Derrick Jason Cosby reacted on Thursday as he left the courtroom surrounded by his wife and children who cried tears of relief.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated about 2½ hours before acquitting Cosby, 43, of the 2400 block of East Orvilla Road, of charges of voluntary manslaughter and possessing an instrument of crime in connection with the 11:45 p.m. July 22, 2017, shooting death of Jeremy Chasteen, 31, during a party at Cosby’s home and while Chasteen was involved in a heated argument with his wife, Felicia.
Upon learning about the jury’s decision, Felicia Chasteen ran from the courthouse, followed by a family member, sobbing and obviously distraught about the jury’s decision.
“Like I always said from the beginning, it was a tragic situation for everybody, for the victims, for my client as well,” defense lawyer Edward M. Galang said after the verdict was announced. “The primary issue was the Castle Doctrine on protecting the home.”
The verdict came within 20 minutes after jurors asked Judge Todd D. Eisenberg to re-read to them the so-called “castle law,” which essentially dictates that deadly force can be used, in certain circumstances, to defend oneself against an intruder in their own home.
During the trial, Galang argued the shooting was justified. Galang suggested Cosby had “a reasonable belief” that Chasteen’s wife, Felicia, and others at the party were in danger of “imminent death or serious bodily injury.”
“It started out as a celebration. It ended in a tragedy. He (Cosby) believed Felicia Chasteen’s life was in danger. There’s no question he used deadly force. I suggest to you, ladies and gentlemen, that was reasonable,” Galang argued during his closing statement to jurors.
Assistant District Attorney Richard H. Bradbury Jr. argued the fatal shooting of Chasteen was not legally justified. A forensic pathologist testified the fatal gunshot to Chasteen’s head was “fired at close range” and Bradbury alleged Chasteen was “executed” by Cosby.
An autopsy determined Chasteen suffered a gunshot wound to the “left side of the head just above the ear” and the bullet exited the right side of the head, damaging the brain and skull.
Testimony revealed Chasteen was unarmed.
Cosby was hosting a picnic and party at his Orvilla Road home in recognition of his son’s return from a Navy assignment. Chasteen was an invited guest, along with his wife and their six children.
During four days of testimony, jurors heard different versions about what happened at the party and had to weigh the credibility of the eyewitnesses to determine the facts.
Party attendees who were called by the defense testified Chasteen, who was about 6-feet tall and weighed 315 pounds, was enraged and was beating and choking his wife and that they believed Chasteen was going to kill her.
“I think he’s on the brink of killing her,” Cosby, a U.S. Navy veteran and former military police officer, testified when he stepped into the witness box on Thursday. “The situation escalated so quickly. I was in fear for his wife’s life.”
Cosby testified that after dark he had begun carrying his unloaded Glock 30 .45-caliber handgun in a concealed manner at the party.
“It gives me peace of mind for one. It gives me security, for my own safety,” Cosby told jurors, claiming when he saw Chasteen becoming violent he went to his bedroom and loaded a magazine into his Glock firearm and returned to the family room.
Cosby testified he observed Chasteen “pushing through people” in an attempt to get at his wife.
“He was going to hit his wife. That’s when I shot him. I was afraid for her. I really thought he was going to kill her,” said Cosby, testifying he ordered Chasteen to leave his home several times but Chasteen did not comply. “The guy was so big, you couldn’t stop him.”
One of Cosby’s final comments to jurors was, “If I could put you in my shoes…”
While Felicia Chasteen testified her husband gripped her on the back of her neck to try to guide her out of the house as they argued about who was going to drive home from the party, she claimed her husband never struck her and did not strangle or choke her, as defense witnesses suggested.
When the argument spilled over into Cosby’s family room and other guests were separating the couple, according to Felicia Chasteen, “Next thing I know I heard a gun pop.”
Detectives testified they observed no signs of injury to Mrs. Chasteen, albeit a scratch on the back of her neck. A detective said there were no signs she was choked or struck on the face or arms.
Bradbury argued Cosby’s use of deadly force was not warranted under the law because no one at the party was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. The police station was less than a mile away and Cosby could have called for help, Bradbury argued.
“Did Jeremy Chasteen need to die?” Bradbury asked jurors during his closing statement, alleging Cosby shot Chasteen without a warning. “Nothing’s stopping anybody, if this is truly a kill or be killed situation, from calling police. We know conclusively that Jeremy Chasteen did not need to die.
“This isn’t the wild west. This isn’t 1800s Montana,” Bradbury argued.
An investigation began when Cosby placed a 911 call and informed the dispatcher “there was a domestic situation” and that he had shot someone, according to the criminal complaint filed by county Detective John Wittenberger and Hatfield Township Detective John Ciarlello. Arriving officers found Chasteen dead in the first-floor family room of Cosby’s residence.