Court OKs child sex abuse sentence

‘Predator’ imprisoned for at least 73 years

An Altoona man who is incarcerated for a minimum of 73 years on an attempted child rape charge has lost his case for a reduced sentence, according to a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision issued last week.

David Allen Helsel, now 38, was sentenced to the lengthy term in 2012 by Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle, who called Helsel a child “predator” because he had served 10 years behind bars for two previous child rapes.

Helsel last year filed a petition contending his most recent sentence was illegal because the judge imposed consecutive 25-year minimum sentences for attempted rape of a child and attempted rape by forcible compulsion, separate charges stemming from the same criminal incident.

A Superior Court panel concluded that Helsel’s complaints of an illegal sentence had already been affirmed by the Superior Court in a previous appeal.

In that previous ruling the Superior Court upheld Doyle’s opinion imposing separate sentences because the two charges included different elements of proof that were necessary for conviction.

Helsel, acting as his own attorney in September of last year, requested a modification of his sentence.

Doyle rejected Helsel’s petition without a hearing, stating his most recent attempt for a lower sentence was untimely — that it had not been filed within a year after his previous appeal had been dismissed.

Judges Victor P. Stabile, Alice B. Dubow and Carolyn H. Nichols in their opinion pointed out that there are three exceptions to the one-year rule.

The exceptions are: government interference with an appeal; new facts that were unknown until recently or a new constitutional right granted by either the U.S. or Pennsylvania Supreme courts.

Helsel did not claim any of the exceptions when filing his appeal last year.

“Thus the (Blair County judge) properly dismissed Helsel’s claims without a hearing,” the opinion stated.

The Helsel case was a

landmark in Pennsylvania because he was the first person initially sentenced to life in prison as a three-time child sexual abuse offender.

Helsel had been sentenced in 2000 to serve 10 years behind bars because of the separate rapes of two children.

When he was convicted of his latest offenses, former Blair County Assistant District Attorney Daniel Kiss sought a life sentence because it was Helsel’s third offense against children.

The Superior Court in 2012 vacated the life sentence, reasoning that the incidents in 2000 should be considered only one offense, not two, because Helsel was sentenced at the same time for both instances. That meant he had only one opportunity to rehabilitate himself.

Doyle resentenced Helsel to 73 to 146 years, and that sentence was upheld by the state appeals court in 2013.

He remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.

Helsel had been released from his previous sentence only four months when, on June 19, 2009, he came upon a group of young people standing near the Oak Ridge Cemetery.

He claimed to be a cemetery employee investigating vandalism and he stated he had to take two young girls in the group, ages 12 and 14, into custody.

When they reached a wooded area, Helsel drew a knife. The older girl was able to break free and ran to the nearby Barvarian Aid Society where there just happened to be a meeting of the Fraternal Order of Police.

Two officers immediately responded and found Helsel standing over the younger girl, who was screaming.

They gave chase and eventually were able to locate the suspect hiding under a pile of leaves, dirt and branches.