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Defense can see, not copy tape, Westmoreland County judge rules

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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 11:21 p.m.
 

A man accused of inappropriately touching a female student on a school bus while he was working as a monitor will not be permitted to have a copy of surveillance footage obtained by police.

Assistant District Attorney Karen Patterson argued that prosecutors are prohibited from duplicating the footage, obtained from a security camera, because that would constitute child pornography,

Westmoreland County Judge Meagan Bilik-DeFazio ruled Thursday that, although the defense can review the tape, it is not entitled to its own copy.

James Hopkins, 75, and defense attorney Michael DeRiso can view the footage at the district attorney's office or the Penn Township police station. “Said surveillance footage shall remain in the custody of the Commonwealth at all times,” Bilik-DeFazio wrote in the order.

She watched the footage Thursday morning after a hearing on DeRiso's motion to compel prosecutors to produce the tape. Patterson argued making a copy would violate state and federal child pornography statutes.

“The footage that is in question ... depicts the sexual acts,” Patterson told the judge. “We're not trying to prevent them from viewing the tape.

“We would be re-victimizing the child by copying (it),” she argued.

Hopkins, of Ardara, is accused of inappropriate contact with a special-needs student on three occasions on a school bus while he was working as a monitor for First Student Bus Co. The Tribune-Review does not identify victims in cases involving allegations of sexual assaults.

The investigation began in June 2013.

DeRiso said the tape shows Hopkins seated with the girl in the last seat of a school bus. Their bodies are obscured by another seat.

“There's no nudity, there's nothing depicted of that nature,” DeRiso argued. “There is no sexually explicit depictions.

“No one's re-victimizing anybody,” DeRiso argued. “The bad stuff, you don't see.”

Defendants are entitled to receive evidence prosecutors have against them through the discovery process, which is held before a trial.

“Obviously, this (footage) is evidence,” said Bruce Antkowiak, criminal law professor at St. Vincent College in Unity.

Antkowiak called the ruling “conservative,” “unusual,” and open to a challenge.

DeRiso said that the defense could spend hours watching the tape and discussing its contents with an expert as it prepares for trial.

He suggested that Bilik-DeFazio impose certain restrictions on the defense, such as forbidding it from making any additional copies or ordering it to return its copy of the tape after court proceedings are finished.

Hopkins is free on $50,000 bond.

He is charged with corruption of minors, indecent assault, indecent assault of a person with a mental disability, institutional sexual assault, endangering the welfare of children and open lewdness.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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