Former karate instructor guilty of sex assaults, plotting to kill accusers
A jury on Monday found a former North Versailles karate instructor guilty of dozens of charges that he sexually abused students and then came up with jailhouse plots to have the victims killed before trial.
Michael Scherbanic, 30, of South Park was convicted on 69 charges: 42 relating to the sexual abuse of eight students and 27 related to his plot to kill them.
“I do not agree with the jury's verdict in total,” said Richard Narvin, Scherbanic's attorney. “I don't think the evidence was there to support some of the charges.”
The jury — made up of five men and seven women — disagreed, finding Scherbanic not guilty on only two of the original 71 charges. They included two counts of indecent assault on two of the victims.
Scherbanic remained shackled but not handcuffed for the duration of the trial, but sheriff's deputies placed him in handcuffs as the verdict was read. The trial had involved extra security, including a metal detector at the entrance of the courtroom and multiple deputies in the room, because of the nature of the charges and Scherbanic's martial arts experience.
As deputies led him from the courtroom Monday, he made a sexually suggestive gesture toward the victims.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel initially set sentencing for June 28, but Scherbanic waived his right to a pre-sentencing report in order to move from Allegheny County Jail to state prison sooner.
Narvin alluded to the sometimes harsh treatment of convicted child sexual abusers by other inmates.
“It's certainly nothing specific … in general, in cases like this when the individuals are incarcerated, there is a bad feeling amongst other people in the jail that cause people convicted of these sorts of crimes problems,” he said.
Narvin maintained Scherbanic's innocence in terms of the sexual abuse and assault charges. He also said that although Scherbanic admitted to making plans to kill his accusers, he never actually intended to harm them.
“He was concerned (about the seriousness of the charges) and therefore he probably did do some things that were probably unwise and certainly not helpful,” Narvin said. “But I think if you were there, anything he did do, he admitted to in the presence of the jury.”
Scherbanic was charged in February 2017 with soliciting murder, among other criminal solicitation charges. Together with his cellmate at the time, he came up with intricate plans that involved hand-drawn maps, Molotov cocktails, arson, bribery and intimidation.
The cellmate flipped on Scherbanic and told authorities about the plans. Scherbanic admitted in court last week that he made maps and plotted with the cellmate.
“I did write those things,” he testified. “I did tell him I wanted them dead.”
Those that he wanted dead included eight boys he was charged with molesting at his school, the Tang Soo Do Karate College, between 2008 and his arrest in June 2016.
Central to Scherbanic's defense was casting doubt on the credibility of his accusers as well as his argument that he'd never been alone with any of the children before 2014. The prosecution disputed that claim.
Narvin said he will continue to represent Scherbanic should he choose to appeal the verdict.
“My client has understood from the very beginning how serious this is … and he has always indicated to me his innocence with regard to the action with the young men,” he said. “That is still the case today.”
Sentencing is set for May 10.