Gates convicted of child sex crimes
Man found guilty of 65 criminal counts
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County jury took about a half-hour Thursday to convict a Hollidaysburg area man of sexually assaulting four girls and related child pornography offenses.
Robert D. Gates, 71, who took the stand in his own defense and maintained his innocence, watched each of the 12 jurors stand and announce unanimous support for guilty verdicts on 65 criminal offenses.
“Yes, sir,” one juror said firmly when asked if he agreed with
“Yes,” another juror stated while nodding his head.
A female juror, who regularly leaned forward while witnesses testified, added another “yes” when Judge Daniel Milliron asked if she supported the verdict.
Guilty verdicts were rendered to four counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, eight counts of aggravated assault of a child, eight counts of indecent assault and additional counts of indecent exposure, corruption of minors, photographing children in sexual acts and possession of child pornography.
The jury also answered “yes” when asked if 26 of the 65 counts reflected a course of conduct by the defendant.
Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky said he intends to seek maximum penalties so Gates is never released from prison.
Gates has been in Blair County Prison for about three years awaiting trial.
Because the verdicts include at least 50 felonies, Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith asked that Gates’ bail, set at $330,000 cash, be revoked.
Milliron agreed, so Gates has no chance of being released pending his Nov. 5 sentencing date.
“I think he got what he deserved,” said one of the four victims, now 16 years old. The teenager was able to push aside tears Tuesday and testify against Gates, who sat only a few feet from her. After the trial ended, she and her mother hugged.
“She doesn’t have to be silent anymore,” the mother said.
The girls testified that they were afraid to reveal what was happening with Gates in 2012 and 2013. They said he told them to keep it secret because they would get in trouble or there would be trouble for their families. When the sisters talked about disclosing what was going on, one told the other that no one would believe them.
“This case is about credibility,” Smith told the jury as she asked them to believe the girls.
Gates, who tesified in his own defense, said that because he’s been impotent since 2003, he isn’t able to engage in the activities the girls described. But Smith pointed out that the girls also said he used his finger and mouth when assaulting them.
Children lie so they won’t be punished, Smith told the jury. “But grown-ups lie for the same reason,” she said.
The 16-year-old who testified Tuesday said she was about 9 years old when she began accompanying a friend and her friend’s sister to Gates’ house along Mountain Avenue in Allegheny Township. While Gates initially befriended them, she said he later touched, sexually assaulted and exposed himself to them while they were in his house and at Valley View County Park. The girls also said he took nude pictures of them.
Another victim, now 11 years old, bent her head forward and smiled while listening to the deputy prothonotary read guilty verdict after guilty verdict. The girl was 7 when Gates took pictures of her wearing only a shirt while she posed in a variety of positions, some exposing her genitals.
Gates, who is related to the 11-year-old victim, admitted to taking the photos shown during the trial. But Gates said he did that to placate a child who could be stubborn. And Gates said he erased those photos shortly after taking them and never intended for anyone to see them.
State police were able to find those pictures and a collection of child pornography photos on Gates’ cellphone and his computers after Allegheny Township Police Officer H.T. Fownes started investigating the allegations made by sisters who lived beside Gates.
The younger sister, now 13 years old, told her friend’s mother what had happened, leading to additional disclosures. Until the sisters told their mother what had been happening, the mother, sobbing while testifying, said she didn’t have a reason to mistrust Gates, who had been friendly with her and her daughters.
Gates, with arms cuffed behind his back, declined comment while being escorted from the courtroom by sheriffs deputies. Defense attorney R. Thomas Forr said he will speak with Gates about appeal options.
Elensky said he appreciated the jury’s verdicts in a case with strong evidence.
“Their verdicts put a little bit of an end to a nightmare for four young girls who have gone through a monstrous ordeal because of this monster,” Elensky said. “Without those girls speaking up, we wouldn’t be here.”
Smith also praised the girls, two of whom testified in the courtroom and two who were granted permission to testify by video from another location, thereby avoiding being in the room with Gates.
“This case demonstrates the strength of four girls who stood together and faced their fears,” Smith said.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.