Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, District Attorney Kevin Steele, who has staked his reputation on trying to win a guilty verdict against comedian Bill Cosby, has ironically supported efforts to honor late Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno despite his connection to the pedophilia scandal that rocked the school.
Months after he indicted Cosby — some 12 years after an alleged incident involving the comedian and former Temple University employee Andrea Constand, and about two days before the statute of limitations were to expire — Steele pushed to recognize Paterno.
“This certainly suggests a double standard, a zeal to prosecute Cosby for a crime he may have committed, while working to honor a man who acknowledged knowing of an even greater crime, in this case, the sexual abuse of children,” said Robert C. Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University.
“An explanation of this apparent bias and moral obtuseness requires explanation and discussion,” Smith said.
It’s vaguely possible that the defense could move to disqualify Steele, but the judge may not agree, said Robert Weisberg, the faculty co-director at the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center.
“Does it show that the prosecutor is a hypocrite — why would that matter? That he wants to counterbalance his favoring of Paterno by being too aggressive against Cosby,” Weisberg said, noting that Steele may owe it to his colleagues to offer some explanation for his Paterno support.
“Because, even if it has no effect on the case outcome, it may cause some public perception of his skewed motives and harm the reputation of his office. Certainly, he should have avoided doing this in the first place,” Weisberg said.
Retired Airforce Major General Charles J. Dunlap Jr. said he was confounded by the Steele-Paterno news.
“It’s a great question, but honestly, I can’t even fathom an answer,” said Dunlap, who’s also a professor of the practice of law and executive director at the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University Law School.
Steele’s support of Paterno came to light this week after the popular Instagram gossip page tattle.tailzz posted a story about Jerry Sandusky’s son, who also faces multiple counts of sex abuse. The website posted a link to a letter signed by Steele and others seeking an honor for Paterno.
Prior to writing the letter, legal documents were released that detailed $100 million in settlements Penn State agreed to with 32 of Sandusky victims. The documents revealed Paterno had been aware of sexual assault incidents as early as 1976 but did nothing, allowing the crime to go on for decades.
Paterno, who died in 2012, claimed he didn’t know of Sandusky’s crimes until 2001. Sandusky is serving life in prison after his 2012 conviction on multiple counts of child sex abuse.
Meanwhile, Steele has been relentless in his prosecution of Cosby despite a case deemed weak by the previous district attorney.
Many view the case as a “he said, she said,” and it’s already more than 13 years old with admittedly no physical evidence.
It’s already been the subject of a civil settlement between Cosby and Constand a decade ago.
“You can say it’s apples to oranges, but I’m not so ready to just dismiss it as that because Kevin Steele, if he stood for justice, would not be standing for Joe Paterno and standing for Paterno is tantamount in my eyes to standing for Jerry Sandusky,” said Carla Askew, a D.C. paralegal who previously attended Temple University.
Temple, where Cosby served on the board of trustees until 2014, counted among the many colleges and universities that withdrew honorary degrees bestowed upon the actor after dozens of women claimed he assaulted them.
“So is it fair to say that because Joe Paterno was a great coach, all should be forgiven?” Askew said. “Bill Cosby has won a bunch of Emmys and Grammys, so I’d like to ask Mr. Steele whether he’ll be writing a letter of recommendation for a Bill Cosby honor.”
Steele, in his role as president of the Penn State Alumni Association, joined the association’s chairman, its CEO and two others in writing the support letter in July 2016.
They urged the university to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Paterno taking the helm at State College, which the school did.
“Coach Paterno wanted academic success not only for his players but also for every student who came through Penn State,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement.
Steele, thorough his spokesperson, Kate Delano, declined to comment.
In an email, Delano claimed the information was false, but refused to elaborate.
Several news outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post and Newsweek, reported the lawsuit documents, each noting that Paterno knew of Sandusky’s crimes since 1976 but kept silent.
This week, several Penn State alumni declined comment, with one individual stating off the record that “Coach Paterno, if he was alive, would be as welcome here today as Bill Cosby would be at Kevin Steele’s dinner table.”
At Temple, some 196 miles from Penn State, reaction remained mixed. During Cosby’s trial in June, three unidentified Temple trustees sat with supporters of the star.
While Temple’s spokesman refused comment, Patrick O’Connor, Temple’s board chairman, said he thought the jury system worked in the case.
“I think the integrity of the jury system is good. I think it worked in this instance and it will continue to do so,” O’Connor said.