Four Lions Cleared, Two Bound For Trial

Four of the six Penn State football players facing criminal charges in connection with an April 1 fight in downtown State College were cleared Friday. Two others, safety Anthony Scirrotto and defensive tackle Chris Baker, were bound over for trial.

The actions all took place in Court 1 at the Bellefonte County Courthouse. Magisterial District Judge Carmine Prestia oversaw the preliminary hearing, a single proceeding to determine whether there was enough evidence to send each of the defendants to trial.

The hearing was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. but was delayed more than an hour while prosecutors met with defense attorneys. When the hearing began, assistant district attorney Steve Sloane announced he was withdrawing all charges against Penn State star cornerback Justin King due to insufficient evidence. The 19-year-old was accused of felony criminal trespass and two lesser counts.

The prosecution called nine witnesses and the testimony took all day. The remaining five defendants had four differing attorneys, and each was allowed to question the witnesses after Sloane held his direct examination.

No Penn State football players were called to testify. In preliminary hearings such as this, where the prosecution is simply trying to prove it has enough evidence to send cases to trial, the defense does not call witnesses.

Once the testimony was complete, Prestia held a brief meeting with the prosecution and defense attorneys and then immediately dismissed all charges against linebackers Jerome Hayes and Tyrell Sales, as well as defensive back Lydell Sargeant. All faced the same charges as King.

Sloane then presented his final arguments for why Scirrotto and Baker should be bound over for trial. The former was charged with felony counts of burglary and criminal trespass and other minor offenses, the latter was charged with felony counts of burglary and criminal trespass, as well as lesser charges of simple assault, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and harassment.

Their attorneys then provided closing arguments on why they should not be bound over for trial.

Prestia found enough evidence to send Scirrotto to trial on all charges and Baker on the two felony counts as well as simple assault and criminal mischief.

Each will be formally arraigned in 30 days. A date for a preliminary hearing for the trial has been set for July 24. The trial itself will likely happen in early August.

Witnesses Friday included residents of the apartment where the brawl took place and guests at a party at the apartment in question. Though all basically said the same thing -- that a large group of Penn State football players forced their way into the party and began fighting with people -- they all had trouble identifying anyone who was actually fighting.

One witness who said he saw Baker in the apartment was asked to point him out in the courtroom. Though Baker was sitting near the front on the right side, the witness could not identify him.

Another witness was Bernd Imle, who admitted to initiating a fight with Scirrotto earlier that night, an event prosecutors contend led to the brawl at the apartment. Imle said he and two friends were passing Scirrotto and his girlfriend on a College Avenue sidewalk when she “hocked up a lugie” and spit. He said he responded by saying “ewww.”

He said after taking a few steps, Scirrotto yelled at him. He said Scirrotto kept yelling. Imle said he eventually punched Scirrotto. When Scirrotto's girlfriend approach Imle, he said he restrained her from hitting him, at which point she hit him with a knee to the groin.

In an earlier interview with police, Imle said he was hit in the groin first and then punched Scirrotto. He admitted to lying because he was nervous.

In later testimony, Imle said Baker was one of several Penn State players who beat him when they tracked him down at the apartment party. He could not name any other players involved in the beating.

Sloane said he was taking a hard line with Scirrotto because he believes he could have put an end to all the trouble had he simply called police after he was punched. The prosecution contends Scirrotto used a cell phone to rally his teammates to his defense and then led them to the party where Imle went after the initial confrontation so they could exact revenge.

Scirrotto's attorney argued that he had heard no testimony that indicated that Scirrotto did anything of the sort. In an earlier interview with police, Scirrotto admitted calling his brother and Sargeant. But the police report does not indicate what he said to them.

Baker's attorney admitted that his client should be bound over for trial on non-felony charges of simple assault and harassment, but said there was no evidence that he committed felony burglary (entering an occupied residence with the intent to commit a crime) or felony criminal trespass.

Scirrotto was an All-Big Ten pick last season after tying for the league lead with five interceptions. He is a projected starter at safety for 2007.

Baker was a backup defensive tackle in 2006 and projects to the same role in 2007.


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