Montco D.A. drops rape charges against former GOP boss

Posted: March 19, 2014

CRITICAL evidence that had been the linchpin of a rape case against a powerful suburban political leader was tossed out the window yesterday.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said members of her staff had misread a lab report to erroneously say that the sleep aid Ambien had been found in a woman's blood, and that as a result all charges against former county GOP boss Robert J. Kerns would be dropped.

A grand jury report had lambasted Kerns - equating him to a monster who savagely raped a woman who had passed out. Kerns was forced to resign as head of his county GOP committee and quit his North Wales law firm.

"After the preliminary hearing in this case, we hired two toxicologists to review the lab reports, in which it was alleged the complainant had tested positive for Ambien," said Kerns' attorney, Brian McMonagle.

"Both toxicologists confirmed that that representation was completely incorrect and that, in fact, there were no findings of any drugs whatsoever in [her] blood. The D.A. reinvestigated the matter and determined that, in fact, a terrible mistake had been made. Today, she moved to terminate the prosecution - and, in my mind, right a terrible wrong."

Ferman said she was sending the case to the Attorney General's Office due to a conflict of interest. Yesterday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she would take the case.

"We never had any reason to doubt the information we had until about 2 1/2 weeks ago, when conversations between defense counsel and members of my staff led them to re-examine what they interpreted the reports to be," Ferman said.

"We found that members of my staff had misinterpreted the lab report: They believed the lab report indicated trace amounts of Ambien, when, in fact, the [Quest Diagnostics] lab report indicated there was none. Of course, you can imagine I could not understand how that could happen."

Prosecutors alleged that on Oct. 25, Kerns, 66, and a 51-year-old woman from his law-office staff had been drinking heavily together. He then allegedly drove the woman home, fed her wine laced with Ambien and then sexually assaulted her twice - once in his car and again in her bedroom.

Kerns was charged Nov. 26 with 19 counts, including rape of an unconscious victim, aggravated indecent assault of an unconscious person unaware that penetration is occurring, drug possession, evidence tampering and more. Detectives reportedly found K-Y warming jelly, a bottle of vodka and pink duct tape in the trunk of his Mercedes.

"I think the entire case was predicated on this mistake," McMonagle said.

"It's pretty obvious these allegations destroyed his career, destroyed his life, and today, hopefully, he can start the process of trying to rebuild that life."

Ferman said the grand jury "significantly relied upon" the assumption that Ambien was in the woman's system, making it all the more plausible that the bruising and tearing she allegedly suffered happened while she was passed out.

"The inaccurate evidence was completely intertwined with the rest of the evidence," Ferman said.

"The only way to cure the defect was to move the court to [drop] the charges. The mistake made by members of my staff, I felt, was significant enough that my interest in protecting the office and them, as well, was impacting my ability to make a proper decision."

The alleged victim could not be reached for comment.

On Twitter: @RuffTuffDH

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