Crime

Jury can’t reach verdict in trial for man accused of raping a child. What’s next?

Matthew Sheffer arrives for his trial Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 at the Centre County Courthouse.
Matthew Sheffer arrives for his trial Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 at the Centre County Courthouse. psheehan@centredaily.com

A jury could not reach a verdict Thursday in the trial for a Port Royal man accused of raping an 11-year-old girl.

Nine women and three men deliberated for about two and a half hours before telling Somerset County Senior Judge David Klementik they could not come to a unanimous decision. He instructed them to continue their deliberations, which they did for about another hour and a half before again saying they still couldn’t reach a verdict.

Klementik then declared a hung jury in 37-year-old Matthew Sheffer’s trial. A retrial is scheduled for October.

The declaration came after Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw announced he would not prosecute 78 of the 106 charges against Sheffer.

“I wanted to simplify the charging instructions for the jury,” McGraw told Klementik before closing arguments.

McGraw said Sheffer asked the child to try on swimsuits, showered with her, asked her to try on her mother’s underwear and raped her. Public Defender Elizabeth Ramos said the story was made up by the child’s father because he wanted custody of his daughter.

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“This is a custody dispute. A really, really ugly custody dispute,” Ramos said.

She also argued Sheffer was “an innocent bystander that got swept up in this.”

McGraw disagreed and said Sheffer isn’t a sacrificial lamb or an innocent bystander. Instead, according to McGraw, Sheffer took advantage of a child that grew up in an unsteady environment.

He also recounted the child’s journey since telling her mother what happened — from talking to police, lawyers, staff at the Children’s Advocacy Center, the jury themselves and traveling to and from Maine.

“She’s brought this to you, but she can’t bring this over the line,” McGraw said.

As a result of the mistrial, Sheffer will remain incarcerated at the Centre County Correctional Facility.

“The Centre County District Attorney’s office remains steadfast in its commitment to justice for the victim of childhood sexual abuse in this case,” McGraw said.

The alleged abuses were made known to law enforcement in July 2016 and, after multiple delays, the trial was scheduled for early July 2018. The case was also postponed due to complications from a lawsuit that Sheffer filed, according to McGraw.

“It is very important that these cases be concluded as quickly as possible,” McGraw said. “This case has been delayed entirely too long. We intend to re-try this case at the first available date.”

Sheffer’s lawsuit is against Centre County, seven current or former Centre County judges, an assistant district attorney, the case’s investigator and an attorney.

Sheffer alleges that Centre County has a “consistent and systematic policy of imposing excessive secured money bail as de facto orders of pretrial detention in all sex-based felony cases.”

His lawsuit argues the “wealth-based detention system” is unconstitutional.

District Judge Carmine Prestia set Sheffer’s bail at $250,000 in January 2017. At that arraignment, Sheffer said he was not presented with the opportunity of meeting with an attorney and there was no inquiry into his ability to post bail.

Matthew Sheffer arrives for his trial Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 at the Centre County Courthouse. Sheffer is accused of raping an 11-year-old child when the child’s mother left for work.

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