HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Three Franciscan friars have asked a judge to dismiss criminal charges that they didn't properly supervise a suspected sexual predator accused of molesting more than 100 children, most at a Pennsylvania high school.
Blair County Judge Jolene Kopriva has set an April 27 hearing on the defense motions filed by attorneys for Giles Schinelli, Robert D'Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli, the Altoona Mirror reported Thursday.
D'Aversa, 70, Cristcitelli, 62, and Schinelli, 73, were ordered to stand trial on child endangerment and conspiracy charges following a preliminary hearing last April.
State prosecutors contend the friars either assigned or supervised Brother Stephen Baker when he served at Bishop McCort Catholic High School in Johnstown in the 1990s.
Baker fatally stabbed himself in the heart at the Franciscan's St. Bernardine monastery near Hollidaysburg, which the defendants led from 1986 to 2010. Baker killed himself days after the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese announced in early 2013 that 11 students had settled claims they were molested by Baker while he worked at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, in the late 1980s.
News of the settlement and Baker's suicide prompted more than 90 former McCort students to come forward with molestation allegations, too. Their claims have settled out of court for more than $8 million. Several others have alleged Baker molested them as children, too.
Schinelli approved Baker's assignment at Bishop McCort in 1992 even after he had learned of an unspecified allegation of abuse against him, prosecutors said. Schinelli had written to an out-of-state diocese where the allegation originated and was told no more information was available on the accusation, which Schinelli termed "vague and unsubstantiated" in his correspondence.
Porter argued that Schinelli nevertheless ordered Baker to be examined by a psychiatrist, who found in 1992 that Baker had "no deviate sexual disorder that puts minors at risk," according to a letter from the doctor.
"The fact that the doctor was ultimately wrong does not impact the knowledge that Schinelli had," defense attorney Charles Porter wrote in his motion to dismiss the charges.
D'Aversa's attorney, Robert Ridge, argued the friar didn't supervise Baker while he worked at McCort — school officials did. Prosecutors contend D'Aversa had told Baker not to be alone with minors, but Ridge said that was "based on an allegation, not substantiated by evidence of wrongdoing by Baker."
Criscitelli's attorney, James Kraus, argued that his client didn't have knowledge of the allegations against Baker, and so had no reason to act.