A former county GOP chairman from suburban Philadelphia accused of drugging and raping a female employee of his former law firm had all charges against him dropped after a drug test on the alleged victim turned out to have been misinterpreted, prosecutors said Monday.
Former Montgomery County Republican Party Chairman Robert Kerns had been accused of assaulting the woman after a party in October.
In announcing her decision to drop the charges, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said an investigator from her office had misinterpreted laboratory evidence and erroneously concluded the accuser had the sleep aid drug Zolpidem, also known as Ambien, in her system during the alleged attack.
In fact, Ferman says, the lab didn't detect any amount of the drug in the accuser. Because the county investigating grand jury that recommended the charges against Kerns gave "significant weight'' to that inaccurate information, Ferman said she withdrew the charges.
"While the admission of inaccurate information to the grand jury was unintentional, it regretfully happened,'' she said. ``Upon discovering the issue, my office immediately took steps to investigate, acknowledge and take corrective actions in the matter.''
When they arrested the 67-year-old Kerns in November, prosecutors said he had offered the woman a ride after an Oct. 25 work party. They said he gave her wine that had been spiked with Ambien and that he raped and sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious.
Kerns, who resigned from his party post in the days leading up to his arrest as word of the investigation began to circulate. He maintained all along that he was innocent.
Kerns' lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said toxicologists hired by the defense detected the investigator's error when they vetted the lab reports.
McMonagle praised Ferman's for responding decisively to drop the charges and said he hoped this would end his client's legal woes.
"I can only say that Bob Kerns is innocent,'' he said. ``There was never any criminality here.''
Ferman said she would take steps to improve scrutiny of scientific test results and avoid similar errors in the future.
However, Ferman said prosecutors now must decide whether charges should be refiled against Kerns. Because the present situation has created a conflict of interests for her office, she said she is referring the case to the state attorney general's office for any further action.