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Sunday, January 13,2013

State wants other alleged victims to testify in child-molesting case

By Jim Phillips

With a trial set for next month in the case of a Glouster man charged with molesting multiple children, the Athens County Prosecutor's office has also asked the judge in the case to allow testimony by other alleged, earlier victims of 76-year-old defendant Thomas Shifflet.

These witnesses, according to assistant county prosecutor Robert Driscoll, would testify that Shifflet also sexually molested them, though their allegations have not resulted in criminal charges against him.

The testimony of these witnesses is needed, according to Driscoll, to show a pattern of sexual misconduct by Shifflet over many years, like that of disgraced Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

In a recent motion filed in Athens County Common Pleas Court, Driscoll claims that Shifflet "used his position of friendship and trust, much like Jerry Sandusky did with his foundation, over a period of years to develop relationships with young children that he could use to engage in sexual contact and/or conduct with those children."

Witnesses the state wants to call, Driscoll indicates, include some "other than the victims of the indicted crimes… who, the state anticipates, will testify that (Shifflet) used his position of trust and/or authority to also sexually molest them."

Driscoll has asked Judge Michael Ward to issue a preliminary ruling on whether he can call such witnesses.

"Certain of the state's witnesses, other than the identified child victims of the indicted crimes, are anticipated to testify that (Shifflet) engaged in a similar pattern of behavior with them, using his position as a trusted adult in their lives to sexually molest them," Driscoll writes.

Shifflet is charged with rape, gross sexual imposition and sexual imposition. He is alleged to have sexually abused five children in 2010 and 2011, whose ages now range from 5 to 14 years old.

Driscoll has already asked Ward to allow the alleged child victims to testify via closed-circuit TV, in a separate room from Shifflet. The judge has not yet ruled on that question.

He must also rule on a motion by Shifflet's defense attorneys, to split his indictment in two and try him separately on the first two and last three counts against him. The defense claims these two sets of charges should be treated separately, as they had different victims and occurred at different places and times.

The prosecution has opposed splitting the indictment, suggesting all the offenses are part of a consistent pattern of behavior on Shifflet's part.

Shifflet's trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 25.


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