Friars seeking dismissal of charges

Three facing child endangerment charges in relation to Brother Baker case

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Attorneys for three Franciscan friars are asking Blair County Court for dismissal of criminal charges filed last year, accusing them of allowing a suspected sexual predator — Brother Stephen Baker — to hold or retain jobs that put him in a position to molest children.

Court documents filed this week on behalf of the friars — Anthony “Giles” Schinelli, Robert J. D’Aversa and Anthony M. Criscitelli — point to a lack of evidence to substantiate charges of endangering the welfare of children or conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children.

Attorneys are also asking for separate jury trials for each defendant and the use of out-of-county juries because of prior publicity. A court hearing is scheduled on April 27 before Judge Jolene G. Kopriva.

The state Attorney General’s Office last year charged Schinelli, D’Aversa and Criscitelli after an investigation identified them in supervisory roles when the late Baker worked as a religion teacher and/or athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School, Johnstown, from April 1992 to January 2000.

The investigation also identified Baker as a suspected sexual predator whose assignments at the Catholic high school put him in a position to molest more than 100 students during the eight years he worked there.

Baker, also accused of molesting students outside of Pennsylvania, committed suicide in January 2013 at St. Bernardine’s Monastery in Hollidaysburg.

In separate court documents filed Monday at the courthouse, attorneys for each of the defendants took issue with the pending child endangerment charges.

“Father D’Aversa had no role in the supervision of Baker at Bishop McCort, nor did he have the right to control Baker while he was at Bishop McCort,” attorney Robert J. Ridge of Pittsburgh told the court.

While D’Aversa acknowledged to state investigators that he advised Baker not to be alone with minors, Ridge said his client took that action “based on an allegation, not substantiated by evidence of wrongdoing by Baker.”

Attorneys for Schinelli and Criscitelli made similar arguments to the court, indicating that Baker’s work at McCort was under the supervision of McCort personnel who had the authority to hire, fire, monitor and supervise him.

After Schinelli learned of an allegation made against Baker dating back to 1991, he took steps of telephoning and writing to that jurisdiction, Schinelli’s attorney, Charles Porter, reported in the document he submitted to the court. Even though Schinelli received no further information about the allegation, Porter said Schinelli “took the extra step” of sending Baker for an evaluation, resulting in a finding of no sexual deviant disorder.

“The fact that the doctor was ultimately wrong does not impact the knowledge that Schinelli had,” Porter told the court.

Attorney James Kraus indicated to the court that based on the evidence offered, his client had no awareness of the allegations against Baker.

To attack the charge of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children, attorneys for the friars say they need prosecutors to provide more specific information such as when it occurred, what each did and what words were spoken or exchanged.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.