LEWISTOWN - It was an emotionally-charged day in court for those in attendance at the sentencing hearing of a former Burnham borough councilman convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.
In August, a jury found Larry J. Wise, 51, guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and sexual assault, both felonies that carry mandatory state prison time. On Tuesday, visiting Huntingdon County President Judge Stewart L. Kurtz sentenced Wise to 4 1/2 to 9 years in a state correctional facility. Wise will not be eligible for Pennsylvania's early release program and will have to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law when he is released from prison.
During the course of the hearing, defense attorney Dave Smith choked up several times as he spoke of his client. Smith said this was one of the tougher cases he has tried and wished that people knew his client they way he does.
Smith said his client was a dedicated public servant, serving on the Burnham Borough Planning Committee for more than a decade, as well as serving as a councilman and volunteer firefighter.
"I wish that was the guy you got to know," Smith said.
Smith attempted to convince Kurtz to depart from the standard range sentencing guidelines and impose a lesser sentence, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
Smith asked the court to impose a county sentence, followed by some intense in-patient treatment for his client's addiction to alcohol.
"This case is different, this is not the case of a serial pedophile," Smith said.
Mifflin County District Attorney Steve Snook said departing from a standard range sentence in this case was inappropriate given the defendant's refusal to take responsibility for his crimes. He said that typically the court departs from a standard guideline sentence into a mitigated range only when the defendant admits responsibility.
"Mr. Wise maintains his innocence," Snook said.
Snook took time to review material submitted by Smith on behalf of his client from an addiction treatment center.
"Nowhere in any of these (reports) do I see that he has accepted responsibility," Snook said.
Snook read snippets from one of the reports, citing a therapists notations that Wise was "defensive and results are deceptive or invalid ... Mr. Wise's description of the events is highly improbable."
Snook then shifted his attention to the victim in this case and reminded the court that "Mr. Wise isn't the victim today. He may have had a lot of difficult patches in his life ... (but) the victim here is this young man. He was subjected to a life changing sexual assault."
Snook described how the victim has endured a lot of criticism in the community where he "has been called a liar and a person of bad character."
"His life, he says, is hell," Snook added.
Kurtz then spoke and addressed the issue of sentencing guidelines, citing the point of those guidelines are to make sure that two people convicted of the same crime receive a similar sentence.
Kurtz acknowledged that Wise clearly had a history of public service to his community. The judge also took the time to address the victim and even shook the young man's hand following the conclusion of the hearing.
"Twelve people sat there and believed you, so did I. I believe that you told the truth," Kurtz told the victim.
Kurtz said the victim was "courageous" for coming forward and testifying at the trial.
"Everything you did was right ... I hope the community recognizes what you did," he added.
Kurtz then turned his attention to the defendant and said "alcohol is the reason we are here today."
He also said that by far the most dangerous alcoholics are those that blackout after drinking.
"With the volume of alcohol in you ... it is highly probable you were in blackout (state). That does not excuse this, but provides some explanation of what happened here and why it happened," Kurtz said.
Following the hearing, Smith said he fully intends to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Superior Court and cited several issues he plans to raise with the court, including DNA evidence brought forth during the trial.
Over the course of the trial, Smith attempted to convince the jury that DNA evidence matching Wise that was taken from the alleged victim's genitals did not come about from an oral sexual assault, but rather from his client's blood.
Wise testified during the trial that he was hit several times by the teenage boy when he attempted to wake him up at the Burnham Fire Co. to obtain a password for the computer.
The alleged victim's testimony during the trial was that he was woken up by someone performing oral sex on him, whom he hit several times. He further testified there was blood from the fight up and down the length of his arm.
Smith attempted to convince the jury that Wise's DNA got on the alleged victim's genitals after the fight when he used the restroom, but prior to the exam by the S.A.F.E. Nurse at Lewistown Hospital.
The alleged victim testified the person who assaulted him did so beneath a Steelers blanket as he slept on the couch. But Smith asserted there was never any Steelers blanket taken from the scene, nor was the teen's underwear, and that neither was tested for the presence of blood.
Photos taken at the scene of the assault, which were shown to the jury during the trial, clearly show a Steelers blanket.