Pennsylvania prosecutor makes good on promise to charge Cosby

(Reuters) - A Pennsylvania prosecutor who campaigned for district attorney on the promise of becoming the first in the United States to charge comedian Bill Cosby with sexual assault fulfilled his pledge on Wednesday, a week before he officially takes office.

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby (R) speaks to attorney Monique Pressley as they exit the Montgomery County Courthouse after Cosby was arraigned on sexual assault charges in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania December 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Makela

Kevin Steele, a Democrat elected in November to serve as Montgomery County district attorney, announced a single felony charge against Cosby, who has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting dozens of women dating back to the 1960’s.

“Reopening this case was not a question. Rather, reopening this case was our duty as law enforcement officers with a sworn obligation to uphold our constitutions and to uphold the law,” Steele told a news conference.

Neither Cosby nor his representatives could be reached for comment. They have consistently denied allegations of sexual misconduct.

The charge stemmed from allegations that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted a woman in 2004 at his Philadelphia-area mansion. The accuser, Andrea Constand, a former basketball team manager at Temple University in Philadelphia, settled a civil case against Cosby in 2006.

In a deposition taken for the civil lawsuit, Cosby said he supplied women with sedatives before sex.

The case against Cosby was opened earlier this year by the current district attorney, Risa Vetri Ferman, who will be sworn in as county judge on January 5. Steele had served as her deputy prosecutor.

Cosby was charged days before the statute of limitations was due to run out on the case involving Constand. The statute of limitations has expired on many of the other accusations against Cosby.

In the weeks running up to the November election, Steele and his Republican opponent Bruce Castor said publicly that they would make prosecuting Cosby a top priority if elected.

Castor was district attorney in 2004, and he declined to file charges against Cosby when the case was brought to him, citing weak evidence.

The decision not to prosecute became a focal point of Steele’s election campaign, with him saying that Castor had “failed the victims.”

“Castor didn’t even try,” one of Steele’s 30-second televised campaign ads claimed.

In the weeks leading up the election, in which Steele won 50.33 percent to Castor’s 49.67 percent, Steele touted his record of successfully prosecuting sex offenders.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Steele said new evidence had emerged in the case earlier this year.

Experts have said the case against Cosby, who has been bombarded with accusations of sexual assault by more than 50 women, strengthened in the decade since Constand filed her complaint.

Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Frank McGurty, Toni Reinhold