Jury finds man guilty of child sex abuse

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A Blair County jury said Thursday evening that it believed a 9-year-old girl’s account of sexual abuse at the hands of an Altoona man, even if some members of her family didn’t.

After 2 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury of eight men and four women convicted William D. Leigh, 43, of Bell Avenue of two counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and one count each of child rape, aggravated indecent assault, attempted child rape and attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

The girl’s mother, who was Leigh’s girlfriend, told the jury she didn’t believe her daughter’s story. The girl’s paternal grandmother told the jury, “I just didn’t believe any of this happened,” adding she worked with Leigh previously.

The grandmother on the witness stand said she is the person who called police about the youngster’s sexual abuse allegations, but she testified Thursday that she regretted her decision.

The youngster’s aunt, who referred to her as “my angel,” also didn’t believe her niece’s allegations.

Blair County Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky, who tried the case with Assistant District Attorney Ashley Owens, said Leigh could receive a minimum of 10 years each on the involuntary deviate sexual intercourse charges, a seven-year minimum for the child rape, and a 4-year minimum for the aggravated indecent assault.

Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan will sentence Leigh on Oct. 24.

In the meantime, the Pennsylvania Sexual Assessment Board will review the case to determine if Leigh will be classified as a sexually violent predator under Megan’s Law.

When the verdict was read, Leigh showed little reaction, but his supporters – the girl’s mother and aunt and two baby sitters – began to shed tears.

The grandmother maintained a stoic presence.

Blair County attorney Mark Zearfaus defended Leigh by placing on the witness stand the family members and baby sitters, who showed strong support for the defendant.

In addition to being involved with the girl’s mother, Leigh had a sexual relationship with the aunt who lived with the mother and him for more than 18 months. Leigh said on the stand Thursday he regretted that relationship.

Zearfaus told the jury there was no physical or scientific evidence to show the girl was raped and assaulted in other ways.

“If it happened, the medical evidence would have backed it up. … I think this girl was extremely subject to coaching,” Zearfaus said.

Various defense witnesses put forth a variety of reasons to show why the girl made up her story.

The grandmother said she watched crime shows with her, and the girl may have concocted the story based on a plot she had seen on television.

The mother suggested the girl’s natural father and his new wife coached the girl to tell the story of sexual abuse because the mother had requested increased child support.

One baby sitter said she thought the grandmother put the girl up to telling a false story.

To the prosecutor, Elensky, the truth was in the details that the girl told.

He said that the defense contended she repeatedly altered her story of what occurred, but Elensky argued the youngster’s story was consistent.

She said Leigh began sexually abusing her when she was 5 years old, and it continued until she was 8.

It only came to light when the child told a friend what Leigh was doing. The friend, against the girl’s wishes, told her mother, who contacted the grandmother, who reported it to police.

Police and child welfare officials became involved in May 2013, and Leigh was arrested in February of this year.

The youngster told the jury Leigh would put her in bed at night and in the process would sexually assault her.

She described in detail what occurred including a description of bodily fluids. She said Leigh had tattoos on his arms and chest. She described how the incidents hurt her and caused her to bleed. She even called one incident “yucky.”

Elensky asked the jurors to consider what advantage the girl gained by falsifying a story of abuse.

She had to tell her story to police. She underwent a painful physical examination at the hospital. She was driven to Harrisburg where she told her story to a professional interviewer at a children’s resource center, and she had to appear in court to once again tell the story to strangers, Elensky said.

She never once said, “Let’s not do this any more,” he told the jury.

Another point Elensky made was that the girl didn’t like what Leigh did to her, but she did like him as her surrogate father.

He emphasized the interviewer from the children’s resource center said the girl’s story was unusual in its detail.

The details of her story varied, he agreed, but then he pointed out it would be more suspicious if she told the exact same story every time.

He concluded before the jury, “It’s a child. … It’s a child.”

The girl now lives with her natural father.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.