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Latrobe man to stand trial in toddler's beating

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

A Pittsburgh expert on child abuse testified on Monday that a 2-year-old Latrobe toddler suffered numerous bruises earlier this month when she was likely beaten “with some type of a hard object.”

“You could see from the photographs that these were not minor injuries. They would have caused severe pain at the time they were inflicted,” said Dr. Mary Carrasco, a pediatrician and director of A Child's Place at Mercy in Pittsburgh, which specializes in caring for abused children.

After listening to testimony from Carrasco, Latrobe police Detective John Sleasman and the girl's mother, Nichole Pahel, 26, Unity District Judge Michael Mahady ordered Pahel's former boyfriend, Paul R. Sabo, 48, of Latrobe, to stand trial in Common Pleas Court.

Mahady said sufficient evidence was presented during the preliminary hearing for Sabo to stand trial for aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children. Mahady dismissed one felony count of aggravated assault.

Sabo, who denies abusing the child, pleaded not guilty.

Pahel, who is charged with endangering the welfare of children, testified that emergency room physicians contacted police on Sept. 6 when they discovered bruising on the child's thigh, left hip, buttocks and pubic area.

“Did you do anything physically to (the victim)?” Assistant District Attorney Judith Petrush asked.

“No,” Pahel said.

Pahel said Sabo, who is unemployed, was the primary caregiver of her two children, the girl and her 4-year-old brother. She said she never suspected he abused the children.

Pahel testified that Sabo had been watching her children since July after her mother became ill. She said she works eight hours, comes home and then takes “my medication, which makes me sleepy.”

Pahel said she took her youngest child to the emergency room at the urging of her stepfather and her mother, who noticed the bruises when they watched the children in place of Sabo on Sept. 6.

“I remember at the hospital when Detective Sleasman was interviewing her that she said, ‘Paul smacked me on my bum, bum,' and she pointed back there,” Pahel said.

Pahel faces a preliminary hearing on Nov. 5 before Mahady.

Sleasman testified that during an interview on Sept. 7, Sabo said the injuries might have been caused when he disciplined the child because she defecated on the floor.

“He said he spanked her twice on her buttocks. I explained that those multiple injuries were not consistent with striking the fat part of a child's buttocks twice, and he said he may have swung up,” Sleasman testified.

Under questioning from Petrush, Sleasman said that Sabo said he disciplined the child “when she was naked.”

Although physicians initially feared the toddler might have been sexually abused, Carrasco said, a subsequent examination of the child showed the abuse “was physical rather than sexual.”

Carrasco, who testified via telephone conference call, said many of the bruises had healed when she examined the girl six days after the Sept. 6 examination.

“Some of the bruises were still visible,” she said.

“These are consistent with physical abuse and not accidental injuries,” Carrasco said.

Carrasco said she could not determine what kind of object was used to cause the bruises.

During cross-examination, Assistant Public Defender Jon Sweeney repeatedly asked Pahel whether she used a spatula and/or a wooden spoon to discipline the toddler “during potty training.”

“No,” Pahel said while reiterating that Sabo and, before that, her mother were the primary caregivers of the children.

Sabo is not the father of her children, she said.

Pahel's children were removed from her home and are under the care of a family member, according to authorities.

Sabo is being held in the county prison in lieu of $25,000 bond.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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