By Laila Kearney
(Reuters) - A newly elected suburban Pennsylvania prosecutor could be positioned to bring the first criminal charges of sex assault against comedian Bill Cosby, though the clock is ticking, legal experts said on Wednesday.
Kevin Steele, a Democrat, on Tuesday defeated opponent Bruce Castor, a Republican, in the race for district attorney in Montgomery County, where Cosby's first named accuser filed a 2005 complaint against the actor.
The statue of limitations runs out in January on that case, in which the woman claimed Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his mansion in 2004.
In the weeks leading up the election, in which Steele won 50.33 percent of the vote while Castor received 49.67 percent, both men said they would work to charge Cosby if elected.
Experts on Wednesday said the action would likely come easier than it did a decade ago, when the district attorney declined to file charges citing weak evidence.
"In some ways this case had gotten stronger in the last 10 years," said Matthew Galluzzo, a former sex crimes prosecutor and current defense lawyer in New York.
In the years since the complaint by Andrea Constand, Cosby has been bombarded with accusations of sexual assault by more than 50 women, many of whom contend the actor slipped them sedatives before assaulting them.
The charges shocked Cosby's fans and crushed his reputation as an entertainer and wholesome father figure, but he has never been criminally charged and has denied the accusations. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Galluzzo said the flurry of media attention given to Cosby's accusers over the past year will make it difficult to find jury members whose opinions on Cosby have not been influenced by extensive media coverage of sex assault allegations.
In a deposition taken in 2006 for a separate civil lawsuit brought by Constand and recently released, Cosby said he supplied women with sedatives before sex.
Many of the accusations against Cosby date back decades, putting them beyond the statute of limitations. But in Constand's case, prosecutors have until January to file charges.
Reuters does not normally name victims of sex assault but Constand has publicly identified herself.
Current District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, who is leaving her post to become county judge, quietly opened Constand's case against Cosby this year. Steele has been her deputy prosecutor.
Also aiding the case would be prosecutors' ability to use the testimony of other accusers with similar stories to Constand, "which is always a very powerful piece of evidence," said John Clune, a Colorado lawyer who represents sex crime victims.
(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by David Gregorio)