State College man denies most allegations in child sex abuse trial

Joseph Neff tries to avoid the media as he leaves the first day of his trial on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at the Centre County Courthouse.
Joseph Neff tries to avoid the media as he leaves the first day of his trial on Thursday, November 30, 2017 at the Centre County Courthouse.

A State College man denied a majority of the allegations against him as a sexual assault trial began Thursday at the Centre County Courthouse.

Joseph J. Neff, 36, was charged by State College police in May with more than 700 counts ranging from rape of a child and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child to corruption of minors and unlawful contact with a minor. According to police, the conduct had occurred from 2009 through 2013-14 and started when the child was 8 years old.

The female reported the incidents had mainly occurred at residences in Boalsburg and State College, the affidavit said, and involved one occasion of sexual intercourse.

During opening arguments, Neff’s attorney, Deb Lux, told the jury her client was not without fault and had admitted to touching the female twice. The incidents, however, had not happened hundreds of times over a course of years and actual intercourse had also never occurred, she said.

The female told the jury — which was made up 13 women and one man — that she had known Neff all her life and described him as an extension of her family. She testified that the incidents began as inappropriate comments and looks, which eventually progressed to touching her at night almost weekly.

During the time of the alleged abuse, she also said Neff had told her he was in love with her and had admitted to being “sexually frustrated.” A significant period of abuse had reportedly occurred while her father was ill and her mother was not around to keep an eye on the family.

She told the prosecution that she had not told anyone about his reported actions because, at the time, the family was going through a lot and she wanted to do “what was best for her family.”

State College police Detective Chris Weaver testified, saying police got involved after they had been alerted of an investigation by the Children’s Advocacy Center. He went on to say that Neff had been brought to the police station to speak with himself and a fellow officer in May.

During the interview, Weaver said Neff had waived his Miranda rights and initially denied any inappropriate contact with the female. After learning of the CAC investigation, however, he reportedly became emotional and admitted to the contact, allegedly saying the female had not been lying.

Weaver’s testimony was accompanied by a recorded statement played for the court in which Neff admitted to contact on several occasions. The contact had continued for several years, he said, but stopped when she told him to stop.

Neff took the stand later in the day and, while admitting to two occasions of inappropriate contact when the female was 10 or 11 years old, denied every other instance. Neff claimed to care for her as a child and would do “anything a parent or brother would do.”

He testified that he was “blindsided” by the accusations when he was brought in by police, saying that Weaver had threatened to never let him see his son again if he didn’t tell police what they wanted to hear.

“He was too busy screaming at me, calling me a liar,” Neff said, “so I started lying,” adding that he only confessed to as many allegations as he did because of the threats.

Neff went on to say he was “guilty in a sense, but not completely guilty” of the inappropriate touching, saying at the time of the first contact, he had been on medication and was drinking.

“I couldn’t discern if what I was doing was right or wrong,” he said.

Charges against Neff relating to allegations of exposure to a second minor were withdrawn by the prosecution. The trial is scheduled for two days and will resume at 9 a.m. Friday.