Judge not receptive to convict’s appeal

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A 71-year-old Hollidaysburg man serving what amounts to a life sentence is seeking a new trial or trials, partly because his jury rendered guilty verdicts on 65 criminal charges in about a half hour — averaging about 30 seconds each.

“That’s prime evidence as to why the cases should have been severed,” defense attorney R. Thomas Forr said on behalf of Robert D. Gates, a retired mechanical engineer and Navy veteran. “Jurors are to consider each offense separately.”

But in a recent post-trial hearing, Judge Daniel J. Milliron came up with another reason as to why the jurors quickly convicted Gates of sexually assaulting four girls and related child pornography charges.

“Nobody believed you in that courtroom other than yourself,” Milliron said, looking toward Gates, who wants the verdicts set aside.

Gates, while testifying on his own behalf at his August trial, denied abusing two neighborhood girls, one of their female friends and one of his female relatives who visited and sometimes stayed at his Allegheny Township residence.

The girls, who testified during the trial, accused Gates of taking nude pictures of them and using his mouth and finger to touch them.

The jurors saw numerous photographs during the trial, including ones of a girl wearing only a shirt and posing in lewd positions.

Additional photographs taken from Gates’ computer showed unidentified naked children and adults, which Gates described as family nudist pictures, not erotica pictures.

In asking for a new trial, Forr argued that the pornography charges should have been separated from the sexual assault charges. The majority of the photographs, Forr said, did not show any sexual contact so as many as 26 of the 30 counts could have been thrown out.

“That’s 26 years off his sentence,” Forr said.

Assistant District Attor­ney Derek Elensky told Milliron that prior to trial, arguments were twice offered to consider joining or separating the three cases police filed against Gates. A joint trial made sense, Elensky said, because of the way the investigation developed.

Allegheny Township Police Officer H.T. Fownes initially looked into finding the indentity of a nude girl in a photograph taken by Gates. A few months later, Fownes learned of three girls making sexual abuse allegations against Gates and that Gates had taken nude pictures of them. Subsequently, the girl in the first photograph revealed to Fownes that she had been sexually abused, too.

“If anything,” Elensky said, “this was an example of good police work.”

Forr also contended that the jury was prejudiced in Gates’ trial because Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith, who prosecuted with Elensky, directed jurors in her closing argument to “simply check the guilty boxes … to tell the girls it is time for the shame to end … and for the healing to begin.”

During the trial, Smith’s instruction prompted no objection or judicial reaction.

Milliron, who is in a position to consider Gates’ objections, said he will review trial transcripts and pretrial proceedings.

If Milliron finds no errors, then Forr will be in a position to appeal Milliron’s conclusions to the state Superior Court.

Gates, meanwhile, remains incarcerated on a 54- to 108-year sentence Milliron handed down in November based on the jury verdicts. He was being housed at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale when transported to Blair County for a hearing before Milliron.

Additional photographs taken from Gates’ computer showed unidentified naked children and adults, which Gates described as family nudist pictures, not erotica pictures.

In asking for a new trial, Forr argued that the pornography charges should have been separated from the sexual assault charges. The majority of the photographs, Forr said, did not show any sexual contact so as many as 26 of the 30 counts could have been thrown out.

“That’s 26 years off his sentence,” Forr said.

Assistant District Attor­ney Derek Elensky told Milliron that prior to trial, arguments were twice offered to consider joining or separating the three cases police filed against Gates. A joint trial made sense, Elensky said, because of the way the investigation developed.

Allegheny Township Police Officer H.T. Fownes initially looked into finding the indentity of a nude girl in a photograph taken by Gates. A few months later, Fownes learned of three girls making sexual abuse allegations against Gates and that Gates had taken nude pictures of them. Subsequently, the girl in the first photograph revealed to Fownes that she had been sexually abused, too.

“If anything,” Elensky said, “this was an example of good police work.”

Forr also contended that the jury was prejudiced in Gates’ trial because Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith, who prosecuted with Elensky, directed jurors in her closing argument to “simply check the guilty boxes … to tell the girls it is time for the shame to end … and for the healing to begin.”

During the trial, Smith’s instruction prompted no objection or judicial reaction.

Milliron, who is in a position to consider Gates’ objections, said he will review trial transcripts and pretrial proceedings.

If Milliron finds no errors, then Forr will be in a position to appeal Milliron’s conclusions to the state Superior Court.

Gates, meanwhile, remains incarcerated on a 54- to 108-year sentence Milliron handed down in November based on the jury verdicts. He was being housed at the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale when transported to Blair County for a hearing before Milliron.

COMMENTS