Somerset priest's request for new trial in molestation case in federal judge's hands

By Liz Zemba
February 2, 2016

Somerset County priest Joseph Maurizio was convicted of molesting Honduran orphans.

Ed Dallape left the federal courthouse in Johnstown on Tuesday confident the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio Jr. will win a new trial — and an acquittal.

He pointed to the judge's interest in allegations that prosecutors failed to turn over evidence favorable to the defense of the Somerset County priest, who was convicted of molesting Honduran orphans,

“The government was weak in their presentation,” said Dallape, who along with some two dozen others sat through an evidentiary hearing in support of the former pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City.

“I think Father Joe will be acquitted,” said Dallape, 79, a Ferndale resident who has known Maurizio for at least 50 years. “The judge seems to be leaning in that direction. I think we might have a whole turnaround.”

Convicted in September, Maurizio is seeking a new trial based on newly discovered evidence and an allegation that prosecutors violated the Brady rule by failing to disclose it.

Maurizio was to be sentenced Tuesday, but U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson, who did not immediately rule on the request, postponed the sentencing and ordered the evidentiary hearing be held in its place.

Passarello said the new evidence is a statement one of the victims gave a Homeland Security investigator on Sept. 20, when the trial was nearly over. Passarello said when the investigator asked the victim if others treat him differently as a result of the abuse, the boy answered: “Yes. Sometimes they think badly about me. Perhaps they think he really abused me, but that was not the case.”

Passarello said the boy's statement contradicts his trial testimony. He would have used it to cross-examine the boy on credibility issues if prosecutors had turned it over, he said.

“They took away from me the right to challenge his credibility ... that he was not telling the truth,” Passarello said. “That was my whole defense.”

Language barrier

Amy Larson, a federal prosecutor, argued the victim misinterpreted the word “abuse” to mean a specific sex act. The boy later clarified for investigators that although he and Maurizio never performed the specific sex act, the priest did fondle him, she said, which coincided with his testimony on the stand.

Larson said the victim's statement wasn't immediately translated into English. She wasn't certain whether she saw it on Sept. 21 or Sept. 22, but she said the earliest it could have been was after the jury was charged.

Because the remainder of the boy's five-page statement matched his testimony, it was not turned over to the defense, she said.

“When you take the sentence in the context it was given ... it is completely clear (the victim) was victimized by the defendant,” Larson said.

Passarello said the statement is “exculpatory” and “clearly causes severe doubt.” He accused prosecutors Larson and Stephanie Haines of intentionally withholding it.

“They hid it, and they got caught,” Passarello said. “And now they are backpedaling. They cheated, and they got caught.”

Gibson took interest in the defense allegation. In a direct question to Larson, he said he could not “quite understand how you could not view this as favorable” to Maurizio.

“To me, it's pretty clear this is favorable to the defense,” Gibson said during the hearing. “Whether it's material is a separate issue.”

Larson said once she saw the statement, she had the Homeland Security agent reinterview the boy. When the boy was told the term “abuse” in the United States means any type of sexual abuse, not just one specific act, he “said he did not know that ... that under that definition ... he was abused.”

Larson said the statement is not material to Brady because it's based on the victim's misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “abuse.” In the remainder of the five-page statement, she said, the victim details how the abuse left him fearful and subject to “repeated memories of the crime.”

“When you take the entire five-page statement, it's clearly not favorable to the defense,” Larson said. “There's no evidence it would have resulted in an acquittal.”

Credibility issue

Passarello said if jurors knew of the statement, they might not have found the boy to be credible.

“This case is about credibility,” Passarello said. “How in Sam Hill is that not material?”

Gibson gave no timetable for when he might issue a ruling.

Prosecutors said Maurizio used a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to visit a Honduran orphanage numerous times between 1999 and 2009, promising candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.

Maurizio did not testify during his trial. He is awaiting sentencing on two counts of engaging or attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places and one count each of possession of child pornography and money laundering. Through Passarello, he has maintained his innocence.



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