3 friars asking judge to dismiss predator oversight charges
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Three Franciscan friars have asked a judge to dismiss charges that they didn't properly supervise a suspected sexual predator accused of molesting more than 100 children, most at a Pennsylvania high school.
Attorneys for Giles Schinelli, Robert D'Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli argued Wednesday in Blair County that there was no basis for conspiracy charges and the statute of limitations had expired on child endangerment counts. D'Aversa's attorney, Robert Ridge, called the conspiracy charge “deeply flawed,” saying there were no acts taken or plans made by the defendants.
But Daniel Dye of the state attorney general's office disagreed, saying “There was no error in holding this matter for trial.”
Judge Jolene Kopriva promised to rule on the issues “as quickly as possible,” The (Johnstown) Tribune-Democrat reported.
State prosecutors say the friars assigned or supervised Brother Stephen Baker when he served at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown in the 1990s. Baker killed himself in 2013, shortly after a settlement was announced that he had molested students in Youngstown, Ohio. That settlement prompted more than 80 former McCort students to come forward with molestation allegations that have resulted in more than $8 million in settlements.
The state argues that the conspiracy started when Schinelli assigned Baker to Bishop McCort in 1992 even though a previous allegation of abuse existed, and the conspiracy continued while D'Aversa and Criscitelli were in charge of the order. The defense argues that a psychological evaluation ordered by Schinelli concluded that Baker posed no threat.
D'Aversa, in 2000, removed Baker from his formal assignment at Bishop McCort, but Dye said he failed to tell the school that the decision was made because of a new credible allegation from Baker's past. Ridge disputed the timeline and called the reassignment and allegation revelation “coincidental.”
Criscitelli is accused of knowing a safety plan was in place for Baker, but still putting him in positions where he could potentially be around children, including while working at a mall shop.
Lawyers said the defendants fulfilled their duties and argued that the state's contention that Baker shouldn't have had any assignments with access to the public was too broad. They also pointed to a two-year statute of limitations for endangering the welfare of children, and Schinelli's attorney, Charles Porter, accused the commonwealth of using an alleged ongoing conspiracy to “back-step there to get to the statute of limitations.”
Kraus also asked for a change of venue due to publicity, but the judge said such matters aren't determined during pretrial motions, adding “It's a very high standard for change of venue because of pretrial publicity.”