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Video-recording equipment played key role at abuse trial in Westmoreland County

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“For everyone, the judge, the jury, to see the statements the first time (the 5-year-old victim) made them is extremely powerful.”

Joan Mills

manager of A Child's Place at Westmoreland and Pittsburgh

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Friday, July 4, 2014, 10:42 p.m.
 

By the time an 8-year-old girl took the stand to testify against the New Kensington man accused of assaulting her, three years had passed.

But jurors also saw and heard the videotape in which the then-5-year-old described the 2011 incidents shortly after they occurred.

“The forensic interview made a difference. It certainly highlighted previous consistent statements she had made,” said Judy Petrush, Westmoreland County assistant district attorney.

The jury found Omali McKay, 28, guilty of sexual assault charges.

Petrush said it was the first time video-recording equipment purchased by A Child's Place at Westmoreland was used in a criminal trial in Westmoreland County.

A Child's Place, part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, provides services related to allegations of child abuse and neglect.

Because it takes time for a case to be heard, “with (video statements), a jury can better understand how a perpetrator could exploit this child,” Petrush said.

“For everyone, the judge, the jury, to see the statements the first time she made them is extremely powerful,” said Joan Mills, manager of A Child's Place at Westmoreland and Pittsburgh.

The video-recording equipment was purchased through a Community Foundation of Westmoreland County grant and a Zumba fundraiser organized by Murrysville fitness instructor Debbie Hedges.

The equipment enables children to make video-recorded statements at a North Huntingdon office, rather than traveling to Allegheny County.

Mills estimated that about 200 children from Westmoreland and Fayette counties visit the satellite office on Route 30 each year.

North Huntingdon residents Kathy and Jim Duffy are spearheading efforts to provide the children with creature comforts at the facility and to raise money for medical equipment so that sexual assault exams can be performed there.

Kathy Duffy is the founder/director of Energy Connection Creative Healing & Learning Center and Jim Duffy is an attorney.

Kathy Duffy read a newspaper article about A Child's Place, and was touched by the children's plight.

“They are going through these very traumatic interviews. My heart just broke, thinking they were scared. My first thought was, what would they like?” she said.

Duffy purchased and donated stuffed animals, and is collecting more through her business and the Norwin Aqua Club, where her grandchildren participate.

Energy Connection's website has a link, Project We Care!, with a list of needs — including books and backpacks — and ways to donate.

Collection bins are available at the Duffys' business at 150 Robbins Station Road, North Huntingdon.

Duffy's granddaughter, Olivia, 6, is making cord survival bracelets to sell at the center's gift shop, with proceeds going to A Child's Place at Westmoreland.

Donations are being sought to purchase a colposcope, a $14,000 piece of medical equipment that can be used in sexual assault exams.

“I think the stereotypical idea is that these kids are from inner cities, or that this does not happen here. Well, it happens, and we need to pay attention. I encourage people to pay their gratitude forward to these children,” Duffy said.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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