US judge denies new trial for Maurizio
By Phil Ray
February 9, 2016
JOHNSTOWN - A new sentencing date was set Monday for Father Joseph D. Maurizio Jr. of Somerset County, who was denied a new trial on charges that he sexually abused several Honduran children in an orphanage he helped support over the years.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson in Johnstown ruled the 71-year-old priest will be sentenced on March 2 for illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place, possession of sexually explicit photographs of a minor and using money raised for the ProNino orphanage in El Progresso to pay for sexual services from the children.
Gibson, in a 48-page opinion, rejected a petition from Maurizio's Altoona attorneys Steven P. Passarello and Daniel Kiss asking for a new trial because, the defense charged, the government withheld an impact statement in which one of the young victims denied Maurizio sexually abused him, which was contrary to the boy's testimony during Maurizio's trial last September.
"I am somewhat perplexed by the opinion," Passarello stated Monday afternoon in reaction to the Judge's decision.
The judge, he said, agreed with almost every point the defense raised: that the government had withheld a statement that showed Maurizio was innocent and that the statement was "material" in that it reflected on the credibility of the government's testimony.
Gibson, however, did not find the statement was enough to overturn the verdicts because of the large amount of evidence against the priest.
Government attorney Amy Larson argued, and Gibson agreed, that the impact statement prepared by a government witness named Erick was not a recantation of his trial testimony.
Larson pointed out that the controversial part of his statement, in which he said Maurizio did not abuse him, was simply a misunderstanding of what constitutes abuse under American law.
Erick clarified in an ensuing interview that he thought sexual abuse occurred only when there was penetration. He testified Maurizio did not penetrate him, but fondled him.
When it was explained that fondling of a minor was illegal under American law, Erick confirmed he had been abused.
His statement went on to express how the abuse affected his life, stating it caused him "fear, grief, and depression." Passarello last week angrily charged that the government had violated a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady v. United States, and federal court rules by not revealing the statement to the defense when it was written during the last days of the trial.
Erick testified that when Maurizio visited the ProNino orphanage in 2009 he recruited several boys to help deliver supplies throughout the complex.
While riding in a Ford Ranger truck, Maurizio improperly touched him and had paid him money, Erick testified.
Testimony and statements by other victims revealed that Maurizio committed sexual offenses against other youths that day and throughout his many years of traveling to Honduras.
The jury found Maurizio guilty on five of eight counts. Judge Gibson, in the defense's initial motion for a new trial, tossed out one of the verdicts.
After testifying, Erick was asked to complete a series of questions - a victim impact statement.
One question asked, "Do you relate to people differently since the crime? Please explain."
He answered, "Yes. Sometimes they think badly about me. Perhaps they think that he really abused (me), but that was not the case."
That statement, the defense attorneys contended, should have immediately been brought to the attention of the defense because, under Brady, it tended to show Maurizio's innocence.
Government attorneys, Larson and Stephanie Haines, countered that the statement was not "material" and therefore they did not relay it to the defense.
Larson in her argument before Gibson a week ago, said by the time she even saw the statement, the jury was deliberating the case.
Gibson found the government suppressed the statement.
He stated, "The government violated its obligation by failing to disclose Erick's statement to the defendant."
But, he wrote, "Given the substantial evidence that exists in this case, and the Court having examined the evidence already weighed and considered by the jury in defendant's first trial, the Court finds that it is unlikely that a jury at a second trial would acquit defendant on any of the remaining charges."
He said, "there was substantial independent evidence supporting defendant's convictions."
The judge went on to conclude that, because the suppressed statement would not have resulted in an overturned verdict even if it had been available to the defense during the trial, there was no "prosecutorial misconduct" on the part of the government - another part of the defense argument for a new trial.
Passarello said he respected Gibson's decision even if he disagreed with it.
The prosecution's suppression of Erick's statement will be part of Maurizio's appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, he said.