Court upholds man’s child rape conviction

Hagelston sought new trial based on ‘reversible error’

A Huntingdon County man serving 17 to 37 years in a state prison for the rape of a child will not receive a new trial, according to a decision handed down Wednesday by the Pennsyl­vania Superior Court.

Kirk Daniel Hagelston, 37, of Todd, was convicted last year on charges of child rape, aggravated indecent assault and indecent assault, offenses that, according to trial testimony, occurred to a young girl Hagelston knew several years ago.

The child, as a teenager, reported the offenses to a school counselor.

The Superior Court upheld Hagelston’s convictions but vacated a ruling by Huntingdon County Judge George N. Zanic declaring that the defendant would be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The three-judge panel stated it was not clear whether Hagelston was sentenced to lifetime registration based on Pennsylvania’s former registration statute, known as Megan’s Law II, or whether the ruling followed guidelines under the state’s new registration law, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act.

The panel, comprised of judges Victor P. Stabile, Mary P. Murray and John L. Musmanno, stated: “It is unclear whether the trial court imposed sexual offender registration requirements under Megan’s Law II or under SORNA.”

The court asked the judge to clarify that point.

The Superior Court also stated that Hagelston was not found to be a violent sexual predator.

Other than that clarification, the appeals court upheld Hagelston’s conviction by finding the judge was correct when he denied permission to question the young victim whether she had been molested by another male who was living with her mother.

Hagelston’s attorney, Michael S. Gingerich, argued the judge committed “reversible error” by denying the defense this line of questioning.

The Superior Court panel stated that victims of sexual assault can be questioned about prior sexual assaults but emphasized that testimony is barred if it “does not show how the evidence would exonerate the defendant.”

The judge barred the evidence of prior sexual assault in the Hagelston case because “the proposed line of questioning would have caused extreme confusion and misled the jury.”

It would have made the jury sift through the Hagelston case as well her alleged victimization in an unrelated case, he concluded.

The Superior Court opinion stated, “Upon review, we agree that such evidence ‘stretches the boundaries of relevance.'”

The defense failed, the appeals court stated, to explain “why evidence of ongoing sexual abuse by another man would exonerate him.”

The final issue that the defense raised was a claim that the evidence was not sufficient to convict Hagelston, noting the only evidence against him came from the victim, and it came years after the incidents.

Uncorroborated testimony of a sexual assault is sufficient to support a guilty verdict, stated the Superior Court opinion.

“From the verdict, it is apparent that the jury found (the victim’s) testimony credible, and we may not reconsider the credibility of that testimony on appeal,” it concluded.

Hagelston is serving his sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Smithfield in Huntingdon County.