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October 23, 2015

Montco DA candidates spar over scuttled Cosby case

Kevin Steele adds fire to campaign, says 2005 Cosby case was mishandled by then-DA Bruce Castor

With less than two weeks remaining before voters in Montgomery County turn out for the 2015 Municipal Election, two candidates vying for district attorney are trading barbs over the decision not to prosecute a decade-old case against embattled comedian Bill Cosby.

On Tuesday, Democratic candidate Kevin Steele released a 30-second ad calling out his Republican opponent, Bruce Castor, for failing to arrest and prosecute Cosby in 2005 after former Temple University employee Andrea Constand accused the comedian of drugging and molesting her at his mansion in Cheltenham Township.

At the time of Constand's allegation, Castor, then district attorney, cited "insufficient credible and admissible evidence" to prosecute Cosby. The case was settled in 2006 for an undisclosed amount and both parties signed a confidentiality agreement.

Castor, defending himself against the attack, said Thursday that sufficient information to support the case against Cosby only became available after he left office in 2008 to serve as a county commissioner. In his response ad, he argues that Steele, who remains a prosecutor, should have acted to revive the case as new allegations of sexual assault continued to mount.

"Despicable desperation politics. Disgusting lies. Kevin Steele had the power to help victims of Cosby but he sat on his hands," Castor says in the ad below.

Steele, immediately firing back, said Thursday that as second-in-command at the county DA's office, he has not been in a position to reopen the investigation. He further charged Castor with neglecting to use the testimony of about a dozen women who raised similar allegations against Cosby in 2005, according to People. In a statement, Castor acknowledged that he reviewed claims from other accusers, but did not believe they could be used to mount a case.

"The District Attorney reviewed statements from other persons claiming Mr. Cosby behaved inappropriately with them on prior occasions," the statement said. "However the detectives could find no instance in Mr. Cosby's past where anyone complained to law enforcement of conduct, which would constitute a criminal offense."

To date, more than 50 women – including two new accusers on Friday – have accused Cosby of sexual assault dating back to the 1970s, though in the vast majority of those allegations the statute of limitations has run out. Cosby has vehemently denied the charges, but during his testimony in the civil deposition for Constandt's lawsuit, released for the first time this summer, the comedian admitted that he obtained Quaaludes, a sedative drug, with the intent of using them to lure young women into having sex with him.

Castor claims that the civil deposition, which could help prosecutors reopen the Constand case, would not have occurred if he had arrested Cosby at the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Current District Attorney Risa Vetri Fermin, a Republican running for county judge, has previously said prosecutors have a responsibility to review past cases in light of new evidence.

Constand's attorney, Dolores Troiani, said her client would be willing to participate in a reopened investigation drawing on Cosby's statements in the civil deposition.

Steele has accused Castor of "belittling" victims, according to People, and urged voters to consider his judgment in the 2005 case when they arrive at the ballot on Nov. 3.

Earlier this month, in Boston, Cosby testified for seven hours in a civil deposition brought by Judy Huth, who has accused the comedian of sexually assaulting her in 1974 at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, when she was 15 years old. A judge in Los Angeles ruled that Cosby's testimony will be sealed at least until December before a decision is made about which parts are released to the public.