The sex offender Amish was ordered to submit to a therapeutic polygraph examination by a Chester County Court judge as part of his supervision on a child sexual abuse case for which he is on probation.
The man, whose name is being withheld because of his relationship to the victim, stood in front of Common Pleas Court Judge David Bortner Wednesday, dressed in plain garb and carrying a traditional straw hat, and agreed to the extra conditions for his probation.
He was joined in Bortner’s courtroom by his brother, other members of his family, and the man that acts as pastor at the Old Order Amish Church he attends. He said little, answering Bortner’s questions quietly with yes and no answers and promising to comply with the polygraph requirement.
The 46-year-old Honey Brook man was arrested and charged in 2007 with fondling his then-15-year-old daughter, hugging her and touching her feet. He told a state police investigator that he had been having thoughts about touching his daughter for some months, and that “his thoughts got the best of him.”
He has been under supervision by the Adult Probation Office since he pleaded guilty to charges of indecent assault and endangering the welfare of children in February 2008. His probation lasts until 2012, and he has been receiving counseling as part of the sex offenders program at Human Services in Downingtown.
In April, probation officer Diane Clemens filed a petition with Bortner alleging that the man had violated one of the basic rules of probation, that of “failing to refrain from behavior which threatens or presents a danger to himself and others.” Clemens did not detail what he had specifically done, and Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Pitts, who prosecuted the case, said afterwards that she did not know exactly what his actions were. However, Pitts said she withdrew the violation allegation in exchange for the promise to submit to the polygraph.
In the sex offender’s counseling, polygraphs are used on occasions to explore whether the offender is having inappropriate thoughts or engaging in risky behavior that might lead them to reoffend. If they fail the polygraph, the therapists use that result to engage them more fully in counseling, Pitts said.
Defense attorney Peter Kratsa of West Chester, who represented the man in court Wednesday, told Bortner that in addition, the man’s behavior was being supervised by a group of men from his Old Order church.
The “accountability board” helps monitor his thoughts and actions, to the point of having him keep a diary that can be read and evaluated, according to a letter from members of the Amish community involved in the man’s case. Kratsa and Pitts told Bortner that the conditions surrounding the man’s probation would continue. They include not being allowed to spend the night at the family home, and not being allowed to be in the home without adult supervision.
But Kratsa also said that there had been an agreement reached that if the man passes the upcoming polygraph he will be allowed the extra privilege of attending Sunday school services at the family home every other week. Kratsa said that members of his community attend church on one Sunday, and then hold family services the next.
“It’s an important part of their faith,” he said. Bortner accepted the new arrangement, and told the man that he was being given the opportunity to succeed with his counseling. “I am satisfied that a lot of time is being spent with you on this case,” the judge said. Those involved are trying “to make sure that the well being of the victim in this case is being addressed, but also that your own well being is being looked after.” Crime in the Amish community is handled, in many cases, within the structure of the community itself and is frequently not reported to outside authorities, the elders preferring to handle it within the community.
In this case, the man’s behavior came to light when he discussed it while in marital counseling at a New Holland counseling agency. State police were contacted in July 2007, and both the man and his daughter, the victim, were interviewed. The victim said that after her father molested her, he apologized the next day and asked for forgiveness. Published: Thursday, September 02, 2010
By Michael P. Rellahan, Special to The Mercury