Democrat Kevin Steele won election as district attorney in suburban Philadelphia on Tuesday, a result that could lead to charges against Bill Cosby in a decade-old sex assault complaint.
Steele defeated Republican Bruce Castor, who had declined as district attorney in 2005 to bring charges in the Cosby case. Steele has been closely involved in a new investigation of the complaint, brought by a former Temple University employee.
The investigation was expected to end if voters returned Castor to the job he had held from 2000 to 2008. Castor recently questioned the accuser’s credibility. The accuser sued him and said she would stop cooperating in the new case if he won.
In his victory speech, Steele told supporters they had made a choice “to fight for victims”.
Cosby has denied any wrongdoing.
Steele defeated Castor in Montgomery County, where Cosby owns a mansion – and where he admitted, under oath a decade ago, that he gave women sedatives in order to have sex with them. Discrepancies between that deposition, partially unsealed this summer, and what Cosby told Castor during an earlier investigation could mean felony charges of perjury for the entertainer.
In the final weeks of their campaigns, Castor and Steele ran attack ads against each other over not charging Cosby with sexual assault during their respective tenures in the county DA office.
Castor held office as district attorney in 2005, when allegations of sexual assault were first raised by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee. Castor declined to charge Cosby with any crime, saying in a statement : “The district attorney finds insufficient, credible, and admissible evidence exists upon which any charge against Mr Cosby could be sustained beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Castor, 54, spent the last eight years as county commissioner. Steele, 48, has worked as an assistant district attorney since 2008, and recently defected to the Democrats to run against Castor.
Having failed to convince Castor to charge Cosby, Constand filed and eventually settled a civil suit against Cosby. Since then, more than 40 women have accused the entertainer of sexual assault, and in July a federal judge unsealed parts of Cosby’s deposition in the civil case. In the court documents, Cosby admitted that he gave women sedatives so that he could have sex with them.
Castor defended his decision not to charge Cosby by saying last year that he thought the comedian guilty “but thinking that and being able to prove it are two different things”.
Locked in a tight race against his former party, Steele began running ads criticizing Castor for refusing to charge Cosby and “ not looking out for the victims ”. Castor in turn flipped the accusation on to Steele, who has worked as the county’s assistant district attorney since 2008.
“Kevin Steele could have done something, because he is still a prosecutor – who chose to do nothing at all,” Castor said in his own ad.
Complicating the race was a lawsuit filed by Constand against Castor, accusing the former district attorney of defaming her. Castor has called the suit “political chicanery”.
Both men have hinted at a continued investigation, at minimum, for Cosby, who became the subject of a revived inquiry after documents were unsealed this summer. In addition to an indictment for assault, Cosby could face perjury charges, Castor told MSNBC in July. He added that the deposition statements were never available to him when he held office.
“I have said repeatedly and for months that if I ever get the opportunity where I get the power to review the investigation into Cosby, I would do so,” Castor added in October.
He has also admitted that his legal team may have “dropped the ball” by not asking a judge to unseal Cosby’s deposition before 2008.
Castor withdrew from the race’s only debate last week, citing a “family medical situation”, leaving Steele sitting alone in a diner in the small town of Lansdale. Steele accused Castor of being “caught in his web of deceitful lies” over Cosby.
Pennsylvania has a 12-year statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault, meaning Constand’s allegations have until January to stand as formal charges. A prosecutor would probably have to argue for an exception to the state’s five-year statute for perjury charges, based on the recent unsealing.
Steele has declined to comment on the Cosby investigation, which was reopened in his office and revealed by Constand’s suit against Castor. But Steele has indicated he would pursue charges if possible. “A case where there has been allegations of this nature needs to be looked at,” he said last month.
“Whoever wins has to go after him now,” a local Republican donor told the Guardian, noting that such high-profile prosecutions were prized by ambitious DAs. “Castor took the political way out at the time because there were a lot of ‘ifs, ands and buts’, and because Cosby was still a hero.”
Steele will also probably continue to pursue charges against Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Kathleen Kane, for perjury and obstruction of justice.
The Associated Press contributed to this report