Alexandria's embattled Commonwealth's Attorney he had solicited a sexual favor from a defendant's wife, disclosed yesterday that he will resign after his third trial even if he is acquitted.
In a lengthy interview -- the first since his indictment on three bingo-related charges last August -- Cowhig said he would immediately seek to be reelected the city's chief prosecutor in a special election after his resignation. "I would not return to office without a public vote of confidence," the prosecutor said.
Cowhig, 53, who stepped aside from his elected position pending the outcome of the trials, accused Alexandria police and his temporary successor as prosecutor of waging a systematic campaign to oust him from office. He has been acquitted on the first two charges and has pleaded innocent to the third, scheduled to be tried March 5.
If he is convicted on the third charge, running a gambling operation in the form of bingo games, he would automatically be barred from office and excluded from running for reelection.
"Whatever happens, I'll survive," Cowhing said, saying that his religious beliefs are guiding him through "the storm."
I pray for my enemies daily," he said yesterday. "I have no vendetta against anyone...
"The Lord doesn't give you any more than you can carry," he said. "I've given all my burdens to him."
Cowhig strongly denied the latest allegation against him, saying that a woman who has accused him of seeking a sexual favor in 1975 had approached him. "She attempted to proposition me," he said. "She called me and wanted to meet. I never called her.... The girl tried to set me up, there's no doubt about it."
Cowhig admitted meeting with the woman on a Sunday afternoon, but denied that any sexual activity took place. The woman has told her attorney that Cowhig had solicited oral sodomy from her in exchange for a promise of leniency for her husband, who was facing drug charges.
An Alexandria Circuit Court judge was asked Friday by the city's acting prosecutor, John E. Kloch, to name a special prosecutor to investigate the woman's accusation and allegations that an earlier police investigation of the 1975 incident was covered up.
The action came after a new police investigation turned up information that contradicted the findings of the earlier probe. Based on that information, Kloch has granted immunity from prosecution to the woman, Sherry Chenault's lawyer, Gregory Murphy of Alexandria.
Separately it was learned yesterday that Alexandria Police Chief Charles T. Strobel had ordered the new investigation in July when the matter first came to his attention. Strobel said that Robert Osborne, a police polygraph expert, told him that Cowhig had taken a lie detector test in 1975 but that the test may not have been accurately reported.
Cowhig referred yesterday to the Alexandria Police Department as a "Gestapo unit" and angrily accused two police investigators of "trying to get me in bed with every prostitute in the city," referring to a police probe into the city's massage parlor business.
"The feds have tried to connect me too," Cowhig said, referring to a separate federal grand jury probe. But they will fail, Cowhig said, because "it ain't so."
Cowhig said the reopening of the 1975 investigation "may" have an effect on his upcoming bingo-related trial. He said his lawyers are considering seeking a postponement of the trial or moving the March 5 trial from Alexandria because of the latest publicity.
Yesterday, Cowhig gave his version of what Chenault claims was a sexual bribe in exchange for the prosecutor's promise of leniency for her husband, who was awaiting trial on drug charges.
Cowhig said yesterday he voluntarily submitted to a lie detector test in 1975 to prove his innocence.
According to Cowhig, Osborne told him the results of the polygraph test were "fine."
"He said, 'Everything came out clear. No sweat,'" Cowhig recalled yesterday. Cowhig said he did not personally see the results of the test. "I never saw what he wrote down," he said.
"I was told by the police department that based on her story, there was no doubt in their minds that I ever solicited anything for any favor or reduced sentence," Cowhig said.
In yesterday's interview, Cowhig said he had never solicited anything, "money, sexual or otherwise" in exchange for any "favor or recommendation for a light sentence."
Cowhig also claimed that the woman was given a lie detector test by a private firm in 1975, and that the test failed to support her version of a City Hall meeting between them. Murphy, Chenault's attorney, said the results of her polygraph examination were "inconclusive."
Two days ago, Murphy obtained a sworn statement from Chenault who reiterated her original story. That affidavit, Cowhig said yesterday, "wasn't worth the paper it's written on."
Cowhig said the resurfacing of the four-year old incident, "doesn't bother me, but it bothers my children. My wife knew that I had met with her (Chenault) and she knows the truth."
In yesterday's telephone interview, Cowhig spoke in a relaxed, friendly manner which contrasted sharply with his curt "no comments" of the past seven months.
Cowhig angrily criticized the recent actions of his former deputy Kloch, saying his temporary successor was "incapable of leadership" and is "after" his $42,500-a-year job as prosecutor.
Kloch yesterday declined to comment on Cowhig's statement.
Last week Kloch and four members of his staff threatened a mass resignation if Cowhig returns to office. Yesterday Cowhig called their ultimatum "a sneak Pearl Harbor attack" and said the request for a special prosecutor to investigate Chenault's charges "was done for the same purpose. Embarrassment. Pressure, pressure, pressure for me to resign."
Cowhig also questioned Kloch's authorit to grant Chenault immunity, a move he described as "absolutely disgraceful... an abuse of the criminal justice system."
"You get people on the street... they'll say anything," Cowhig said yesterday.
Strobel said yesterday the commonwealth's attorney's office had been "wrestling" with the question of pursuing Chenault's accusation since August, when Strobel informed Kloch, City Manager Douglas Harman and special bingo prosecutor Edward J. White of the alleged police cover-up.
The focus of the investigation at that time, Strobel said, was trying to determine "who knew what when."
According to a source, Strobel was approached by polygraph examiner Osborne in July. Osborne reportedly told the chief he had been "directed" by his commanding officer in 1975 to keep the incident "confidential."
Osborne's immediate superior at the time, according to police sources, was Norman Grimm, head of the criminal investigation division. Grimm was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Strobel said he would fully cooperate with the special prosecutor expected to be appointed this week.