Special prosecutor named in LaPorte schools case

2013-06-20T10:45:00Z 2013-06-21T08:50:05Z Special prosecutor named in LaPorte schools caseStan Maddux Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
June 20, 2013 10:45 am  • 

LAPORTE | A special prosecutor has been named to the case of two LaPorte Community School Corp. employees accused of hiding a sexual relationship between a volleyball coach and player.

Sonia Leerkamp was appointed special prosecutor Tuesday by LaPorte Superior Court Judge Jennifer Koethe. Leerkamp served nearly 30 years as prosecutor and deputy prosecutor in Hamilton County.

Her appointment was in response to LaPorte County Prosecutor Bob Szilagyi removing his office from the case in early June. His decision followed a defense motion requesting his removal as prosecutor on allegations he and his staff members would be unable to fairly prosecute the defendants, Ed Gilliland and Mary Beth Lebo.

Specifically, the defense alleged Szilagyi and colleagues developed relationships with witnesses and individuals "supportive of the prosecution" of the defendants and Szilagyi has a "dislike" for the defendants.

Szilagyi disputed the claims but, prior to the court deciding the motion, withdrew as prosecutor saying he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety and generating more publicity in the high-profile case.

Szilagyi said his office would make itself available to Leerkamp only if she requests a briefing on things like evidence in the case.

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.

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

The next hearing is scheduled for July 31 to hear defense motions to move the case outside of the county to avoid tainting a jury pool from pretrial publicity and a motion from prosecutors to try both cases together, according to court records.

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