Gilliland, Lebo trial wil be in Allen County

2013-08-01T17:25:00Z 2013-08-01T23:14:10Z Gilliland, Lebo trial wil be in Allen CountyStan Maddux Times Correspondent
August 01, 2013 5:25 pm  • 

LAPORTE | The trial of two LaPorte school officials accused of covering up a sexual relationship between a coach and female player has been moved out of LaPorte County.

At the request of the defense and prosecution, LaPorte Superior Court 3 Judge Jennifer Koethe moved the trial of Ed Gilliland and Mary Beth Lebo to Allen County.

Koethe also ordered both defendants be tried together instead of separately.

Having one trial also was requested by both sides, who came to an agreement on both issues to avoid a hearing Wednesday.

"I agreed to a change of venue if they agreed to consolidate," said Sonia Leerkamp, who is the special prosecutor appointed June 18 to try the case after LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi withdrew from the case.

Szilagyi said he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety after the defense alleged he could not fairly prosecute the defendants for reasons that included personal connections from his father, the late Elmer Szilagyi, once serving on the School Board.

Leerkamp said several other locations, including Lake County, were considered for having the trial.

She said Allen County was her preference because it has a large enough population for a jury pool to be chosen and is far enough away to find enough jurors who have not heard about the case.

"That was the one that seemed to fit the bill," said Leerkamp.

Gilliland, the LaPorte High School athletic director, and Lebo, the former girls varsity volleyball coach, 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.

Robert Ashcraft, 48, is now serving a 21-year prison sentence for sexual misconduct with a minor and other felony counts.

Evidence 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.

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

Koethe also removed herself from the case for a judge from Alllen County to be appointed to preside over the trial.

She said going to Allen County herself to preside over the case would mean having to appoint a judge to preside over her office for two weeks, which is the expected length of the trial.

She also frowned on the idea of keeping the case here and bringing in jurors from Allen County.

"It would been a horrible inconvenience for them to have to stay here during the trial," said Koethe.

Koethe said hearing dates in the case won't be set until after a judge in Allen County is appointed to preside over the trial.


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