Judge tosses charges against friar

Kopriva concluded statute of limitations expired for Schinelli

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Child endangerment and criminal conspiracy charges have been dismissed against one of the three Franciscan friars accused of failing to properly supervise Brother Stephen Baker, a suspected predator accused of molesting youth while working at a Johnstown Catholic high school.

In a ruling issued Monday, Blair County Judge Jolene G. Kopriva concluded that the state’s previous statute of limitations — requiring prosecution of sexual offenses against minors to be filed no later than two years after the minor turned 18 — would have expired in 2014 for friar Anthony “Giles” Schinelli, a former administrator for the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Hollidayburg.

But due to a 2007 change in the statute extending the prosecution time frame to a minor’s 50th birthday, Kopriva concluded that friars Robert J. D’Aversa and Anthony J. Criscitelli, who succeeded Schinelli as ministers provincial, are subject to charges and their cases should move forward.

“No victim enumerated by the Commonwealth, nor any individual who was a minor child between the years 1994 and 2010 would have yet turned 50,” Kopriva said referring to the years when D’Aversa and Criscitelli supervised Baker.

“Therefore, the June 2, 2016, criminal information was timely filed within the limitation period,” Kopriva ruled.

Because of the state’s earlier statute, Kopriva dismissed charges against Schinelli, pointing out that Schinelli’s supervision of Baker ended when Schinelli stepped down as minister provincial in 1994.

“Any minor child at the time of defendant Schinelli’s departure … would have turned 18 by the year 2012 at the latest,” Kopriva calculated, leading her to conclude the statute of limitations expired two years later in 2014.

During a courtroom hearing in June before Kopriva, Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye referred to Schinelli as the one who created “an endangering situation” when he allowed Baker, in 1992, to take a job as a religion teacher and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School. Those roles put Baker in a position to molest 88 youths, based on a grand jury report issued in 2016.

While Dye, at the June hearing, said Schinelli was aware of a prior out-of-state allegation about Baker’s behavior, defense attorney Charles J. Porter asked Kopriva to recognize a difference between knowledge of an allegation and knowledge of what’s true.

Porter did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment on Kopriva’s ruling.

Dye referred the Mirror to his department’s press office.

“We will review the court’s decision carefully,” attorney general spokesman Joe Grace said Monday.

In addition to examining the statue of limitations, Kopriva also looked at the position taken by defense attorneys who said that because their clients do not supervise the welfare of any children, they’re not subject to criminal prosecution on the select charges.

After a review of state Supreme Court rulings and meeting minutes referencing Baker’s assignment to Bishop McCort, Kopriva disagreed.

“In their roles as ministers provincial, they supervised Stephen Baker who in turn directly supervised children,” the judge said.

“… While no exhibit in the record demonstrates a written contract between Bishop McCort High School or the (Altoona-Johnstown Catholic) Diocese and Stephen Baker, other exhibits indicate that a $1,200 per month stipend paid by Bishop McCort was paid to the Franciscan Friars TOR.”

That financial stake, Kopriva concluded, demonstrates the authority and control.

Kopriva also found that a review of additional meeting minutes with D’Aversa and Criscitelli attending indicated that both were aware of allegations against Baker and had settled on a course of action to deal with the allegations. Kopriva referenced that when allowing the criminal conspiracy charge to stand against D’Aversa and Criscitelli.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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