Hearing for friars delayed until June

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A Blair County Court hearing has been delayed until June for three Franciscan friars accused of failing to properly supervise Brother Stephen Baker, a suspected sexual predator whose assignments put him in a position to molest children.

Judge Jolene G. Kopriva signed an order Friday rescheduling Thursday’s hearing to June 14 at the request of Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye and Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz.

In the joint request, the attorneys told the judge they needed more time to review and respond to the “voluminous pre-trial filings” from defense attorneys representing friars Robert J. D’Aversa, Anthony J. Criscitelli and Anthony “Giles” Schinelli.

In documents filed earlier this week with Blair County Court, defense attorneys maintained that the criminal charges — endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children — should be dismissed for lack of supportive evidence.

Prosecutors contend that the friars either assigned or supervised Baker during his years at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown in the 1990s. But documents submitted by defense attorney Robert Ridge, on D’Aversa’s behalf, point out that it was McCort personnel who supervised and had authority over Baker while working at the school as a religion teacher and athletic trainer.

Defense attorneys are also asking the court for separate jury trials and the use of out-of-county juries because of pre-trial publicity.

Charges against the friars were filed last year after a statewide grand jury investigation named about 50 priests and religious leaders, including Baker, who were linked to child abuse allegations during a 40-year period. Baker fatally stabbed himself in January 2013 at St. Bernardine’s Monastery in Hollidays­burg, days after the Youngstown, Ohio, diocese announced settled claims with 11 students who accused Baker of molesting them in the late 1980s when Baker worked at the John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio.

News of the settlement and Baker’s suicide prompted more than 90 former McCort students to make similar claims that attorneys said were resolved outside of court with payments exceeding $8 million.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.