Erie Judge: Comments to Pastor out in Molestation Case

Associated Press, carried in Centre Daily
January 1, 2007

Erie, Pa. - Prosecutors cannot use comments a man accused of child molestation made to his minister about the allegations, even though the minister volunteered the information to police, a judge ruled.

Leonard Hiltabidel, 32, of Erie, told his pastor that he must have molested the two girls because they would not lie about it, police said. The Rev. David Roach of Harborcreek Baptist Church, then contacted police.

"This was something dealing with the life and well-being of two little girls," Roach said. "I gave the information (to police) whether (Hiltabidel) came to me as a church member or not, because this involved two little girls."

Erie County Judge Shad Connelly ruled early last month that "clergy privilege" prevents Roach from both being forced to disclose what a church member says and from voluntarily sharing such information.

The allegations came to light when a student at Harborcreek Christian School - where Roach is also principal - told a teacher she was abused, according to court records. School officials reported the allegations to authorities, as required by law.

Though Roach is also the principal, Connelly found that the potentially incriminating statements occurred in Roach's role as a minister.

Hiltabidel's lawyer, Keith Clelland, called the ruling correct.

First Assistant District Attorney Robert Sambroak Jr. said the suppression of the remarks would not harm his case.

Hiltabidel is charged with indecent assault, corruption of minors, and endangering the welfare of children.


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