On Dec. 1, when Christopher Lee’s trial is scheduled to begin, the community may see whether he’s found guilty of the serious charges against him.
Nine years ago, it was denied the opportunity.
That shouldn’t have happened, but we’re satisfied history isn’t repeating itself.
Lee, the CEO of the historic Boal Mansion in Boalsburg and a Harris Township supervisor, now sits in the Columbia County Prison awaiting his day in court. Arrested Oct. 2 by FBI agents and State College police, he’s accused of bringing a teenage boy to the mansion with the intent to have sex, trying to entice the minor into sex and owning child pornography.
He could face 10 years to life in prison and a $1 million fine. A jury will decide his fate —unlike in 2005.
Back then, Lee caught what many in the community considered — and still do — a lucky break.
Then-District Attorney Michael Madeira recommended that Lee enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program in lieu of a trial.
Though its allocation is left to individual prosecutors’ discretion on a case-by-case basis, ARD is most commonly used for nonviolent misdemeanors such as drunken driving and shoplifting.
But Lee was accused of indecent assault relating to allegations he touched the two sons, ages 8 and 10, of a friend while they spent the night at the mansion.
For comparison’s sake, under the present Franklin County District Attorney’s Office policy, for example, his charges would not have qualified him for ARD.
Madeira, however, saw it as appropriate, saying at the time that he wanted to spare the children from a trial. So echoed Lee, who said he had reached into the children’s pajamas to check for bedwetting. Maintaining his innocence, he said the incident was a misunderstanding.
He served nine months in ARD and, in 2009, had his record expunged. That sealed the court records, including the name of the local judge who went along with Madeira’s recommendation.
All this occurred despite the boys’ mother’s wish for a trial. She slammed the ARD decision and record cleansing as “a slap on the wrist.”
We’d call it a miscarriage of justice.
We’re not convicting Lee then or now.
It will be up to a jury to convict or acquit. Our community in 2005 had a right to know if a prominent figure was secretly a child molester.
By misusing ARD, Madeira took that away — and opened the door for speculation that Lee, because of his status or maybe for political influence, skated. It also raises the ugly question of whether a predator was allowed to continue his ways.
If the case then was too shaky to prosecute, the charges should have been dropped. But if there was enough truth to warrant an ARD offering, Madeira should have done his duty and proceeded to trial.
ARD was a cop out. We’ll never know if Lee was guilty nine years ago.
But, as it should be, we’ll get that chance this time.