Friday, June 5, 2009

NY: Scerbo to hear judge's verdict Thursday morning in school sex abuse trial

by Jim O'Hara / The Post-Standard
Wednesday June 03, 2009, 3:51 PM

Syracuse, NY -- Former Onondaga Nation School teacher Albert Scerbo adamantly maintained in court today he never sexually molested any of his students when they sat on his lap in music class at the school.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, he'll find out if County Judge William Walsh believed him.

Walsh scheduled that time to deliver his verdict in the non-jury retrial after listening to closing arguments from defense lawyer Edward Menkin and Chief Assistant District Attorney Matthew Doran this afternoon.

Scerbo initially was accused of endangering the welfare of 17 female students and sexually molesting 16 of them. The retrial before Walsh involves charges relating to just two girls.

Scerbo, 47, of Clay told Menkin in his direct testimony that it was "to my everlasting regret" that he allowed his students to sit on his lap when he showed movies and videos in class. He claimed he never encouraged the students to sit on his lap because it often was physically uncomfortable because of a severe left leg injury he suffered in an off-road motorcycle crash in 1996.

Scerbo corroborated the story one 9-year-old victim told Tuesday about only sitting on Scerbo's lap one time when she was in first grade. The defendant said he recalled that incident because the girl "jumped" on his left leg and he had to quickly move her because of the pain it caused.

Although Scerbo testified in his own defense to maintain his innocence at his first trial in 2007, there was no mention in his testimony then about the leg injury being a factor in the students sitting on his lap.

On cross-examination by Doran, Scerbo testified students may have sat on his lap hundreds or thousands of times over the years he taught music at the school.

He said he allowed students to sit on his lap because he thought they needed a positive male role model in their lives and it was a way of providing extra attention to students who often didn't get a good night's sleep because their moms were "out partying all night."

In his closing argument, Menkin claimed the prosecution case had been "a moving target for 2 ½ years" as authorities amended the time frame of the allegations to match the changing stories from the alleged victims. He said he was not suggesting the two girls lied, only that Walsh should not base a guilty verdict on the testimony he heard from the two victims Tuesday.

Menkin did not repeat the argument he made at the end of the first trial in 2007 that Scerbo might have been a victim of a racially motivated conspiracy since he was white and all his accusers were American Indian.

Wednesday, Menkin repeatedly urged Walsh to find there was no evidence Scerbo did anything to the girls for his own sexual gratification.

"He has no dark side or motive to fulfill with this kind of conduct," the lawyer argued. Menkin said the entire case had been "extremely painful and hurtful" to everyone involved.

"Finality must come to this very sad episode," he said, urging Walsh to acquit.

"This is a crime of opportunity. It's a secret crime," Doran said of the sex abuse of children. The "ritualistic" manner in which Scerbo got students to sit on his lap and the number of times he did it was proof he was getting some sexual gratification, the prosecutor argued.

If Scerbo's leg was as painful as he claimed from that 1996 injury, one would think he'd have found a different way to show affection to his students instead of having them sit on his lap as often as he did, Doran said. And if the allegations were made up or exaggerated, they could have been made much more severe, the prosecutor added.

Doran said if Scerbo was under as much pressure as he claimed to teach student so much music before the third grade, why would he have set aside one sixth of each week's teaching time to show video unless it was to get the students on his lap for his sexual gratification.

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