Attorney seeks new venue, special prosecutor in LaPorte school sex case

2013-03-21T19:30:00Z 2013-03-21T23:49:05Z Attorney seeks new venue, special prosecutor in LaPorte school sex caseStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 21, 2013 7:30 pm  • 

LAPORTE COUNTY | A judge Thursday scheduled hearings on a motion that two LaPorte school officials should be tried outside the county on allegations they failed to report their suspicions of a sexual relationship between a now former coach and player.

LaPorte Superior Court Judge Jennifer Koethe also decided to hear motions that a special prosecutor be appointed in the case and that both cases be tried together during the same hearings.

Koethe is scheduled to hear all of the arguments for the entire day on June 5 and for a half-day on June 6 on the motions submitted Wednesday by the defense and prosecution.

Defense attorney Elizabeth Flynn, in her written motion for a change of venue, said pre-trial publicity could make it difficult to find jurors who would not be tainted from what they've read about the case in the press.

LaPorte High School athletic director Ed Gilliland and former girls varsity volleyball coach Mary Beth Lebo are charged with two counts of Class B misdemeanor failure to report child abuse and neglect.

It's alleged Gilliland, 53, and Lebo, 50, knew about a sexual relationship between junior varsity girls volleyball coach Robert Ashcraft and a player, and failed to report the activity to the proper authorities.

Ashcraft, 48, is now serving a 21-year prison sentence after being convicted of of two counts of Class B felony sexual misconduct with a minor; Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor and Class D felony child seduction.

Evidence presented at his 2011 trial showed Ashcraft began having contact with the girl in 2007 when she was 14 and later the relationship developed into a sexual one.

Flynn argued newspaper articles contained "prejudicial news reporting or editorializing which castigates" the defendants.

She also cited recent media coverage about an online petition seeking the cases go to trial and articles about an alleged plea agreement being negotiated that gives the impression her clients are guilty.

In her request for a special prosecutor, Flynn alleges LaPorte County Prosecutor Robert Szilagyi "cannot fulfill his duties fairly and impartially in prosecuting the case."

Flynn said Szilagyi and his staff have developed relationships with witnesses and individuals who are "supportive of the prosecution" of her clients and want to see the defendants terminated from their positions.

LaPorte County Deputy Prosecutor Chris Fronk, in his motion for one trial for both defendants, argued the cases have been moving through the judicial process together from the beginning and the allegations and evidence against both defendants mirror each other very closely.

Both the defense and prosecution were given 30 days to file a written response to the motions with the court.

Lebo and Gilliland each face up to six month in jail and maximum $1,000 fine on each count if convicted.

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