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Lack of proof, witnesses may not deter trial

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Robert Lellock of Beltzhoover, a suspended city schools police officer, is brought into police headquarters on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.
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Sunday, July 21, 2013, 11:09 p.m.
 

Prosecutors have no physical evidence, no witnesses or surveillance footage to prove Robert Lellock sexually abused four boys more than a decade ago.

Yet experts say that might not harm the case against the former Pittsburgh Public Schools security guard charged with crimes including indecent assault, corruption of minors, false imprisonment, official oppression and making terroristic threats.

“It's not uncommon to lack physical evidence in such cases,” said Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the country's largest anti-sexual violence group. “It often comes down to the credibility of the victim versus the accused.”

Four men in their late 20s claim Lellock, 44, of Beltzhoover pulled them out of class and inappropriately touched them inside a janitor's closet when they attended Arthur J. Rooney Middle School in Brighton Heights in the late 1990s.

Lellock denies any wrongdoing. His attorney, Timothy J. Kidd, said the prosecution's case is weak. He declined to comment further.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday for the trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Donna Jo McDaniel. The trial could last a week.

A spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office declined to comment on the case.

Perpetrators of sexual assault typically ensure there's no one around to witness it, said Viktoria Kristiansson, an attorney adviser for AEquitas: The Prosecutors' Resource on Violence Against Women in Washington.

Half of all sexual assault victims don't report the crime, and if they do, it's almost always delayed, said Kristiansson, a former Philadelphia prosecutor.

“We almost expect that this is going to be part of our case,” she said.

A three-week police investigation, triggered by a student's accusations made to school officials, found that Lellock targeted troubled students ages 13 and 14 while he worked at the Fleming Avenue school.

Investigators said one accuser told them that Lellock caught him with marijuana and would remind him that he “let it go,” before Lellock fondled him in the closet. Another told police that Lellock touched him and threatened to kill him if he told anyone.

A third accuser told investigators that he came forward because he recognized Lellock when he saw him in the news and has flashbacks.

One of the alleged victims filed a federal lawsuit against Lellock and the school district in February. The case is pending.

The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sexual assault.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Schulte likely will ask the victims to provide as much detail as they can remember, Kristiansson said.

Common details in their stories — the time of day, whether the door was locked, if the lights were kept on, for example — can strengthen the prosecution's case.

“When you have multiple people with similar stories, that's often a sign they're telling the truth,” Berkowitz said.

The school district hired Lellock in 1990 and paid him $51,180 a year. It suspended him with pay last July. He resigned in September.

The district hired Monaca-based Corporate Security and Investigations to look into the allegations after the Tribune-Review questioned administrators about internal documents that purported to show they knew about at least one incident involving Lellock and a male student in 1999.

Ira Weiss, the district's solicitor, said the investigation determined only where Lellock worked after 1999. CSI never produced a formal report with findings, Weiss said.

Zappala said his office reviewed how much, and when, administrators might have known about the accusations. He said he is confident the district is making sure that “employees fulfill all of their obligations under the mandatory reporting requirements,” but would not say whether employees shirked reporting requirements in the past.

Police charged Lellock after the statute of limitations for such charges — two to five years — expired because state law later extended the time limit for child abuse and because Lellock was a public employee.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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