Somerset County Priest's Request for New Trial Denied
By Liz Zemba
February 8, 2016
A Somerset County priest convicted of molesting boys at a Honduran orphanage will not receive a new trial.
U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson issued an order Monday denying the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio's request for a new trial and setting a sentencing hearing for March.
In the 48-page opinion and order, Gibson found that defense attorney Steven Passarello of Altoona failed to show that newly discovered evidence contained in a witness' victim-impact statement would result in a not-guilty verdict at another trial. Gibson said he took into account other evidence at the September trial when rendering his decision.
“Given the substantial evidence that exists in this case, and the court having examined the evidence already weighed and considered by the jury in the defendant's first trial, the court finds that it is unlikely that a jury at a second trial would acquit defendant,” Gibson said in the opinion.
Passarello, who noted that Gibson sided with him on several points he raised, said he is disappointed in the denial.
“He agreed with us that the government had the statement, the government did not disclose the statement, and the government violated their obligation legally and ethically in not disclosing the statement,” Passarello said.
“He agreed with us that the statement was favorable to the defendant ... and the evidence was not only impeaching, but exculpatory, and that it was material to the issues in the case, which is pretty much what we needed to show, yet he ruled against us,” he said.
Passarello said he will appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office, declined comment.
Prosecutors said Maurizio used a self-run charity based in Johnstown, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, to visit the orphanage numerous times between 1999 and 2009, promising candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.
Maurizio, 70, did not testify during his trial, but through Passarello has maintained his innocence.
He is to be sentenced March 2 in federal court in Johnstown 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.
The new evidence, Passarello argued during an evidentiary hearing Wednesday, consisted of one sentence contained in the five-page victim-impact statement that was taken on Sept. 20, one day before closing arguments and two days before jurors returned guilty verdicts. In the statement, the victim said “sometimes (people) think badly about me, perhaps they think he really abused (me), but that was not the case,” Gibson wrote in his opinion.
Gibson deemed the statement to be favorable to the defense and that prosecutors should have disclosed it before the trial ended. But the statement is not sufficient to grant a new trial because Passarello failed to show it “was material to guilt or punishment,” the judge said.
Passarello on Wednesday argued the prosecution's failure to disclose the statement until three months after the trial ended was a violation of the Brady rule, a constitutional requirement that the government turn over evidence that is favorable to and could exonerate a defendant.
At the evidentiary hearing, Prosecutor Amy Larson said she did not see the written statement until one or two days after it was taken. It was not favorable to the defense, she argued, because the remainder of the victim's statement matched his trial testimony.
Passarello wanted a new trial based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct for failure to turn over the statement, but Gibson denied that motion, as well.
“The government did not commit a Brady violation, because (the) statement was not material,” Gibson wrote. “Because the government did not commit a Brady violation as a result of its failure to disclose (the victim's) statement, the court cannot conclude that the government engaged in prosecutorial misconduct.”
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.