Crime

Jury returns verdict in child rape trial for Juniata County man

Matthew Sheffer leaves as jury deliberates

Matthew Sheffer leaves the Centre County Courthouse as the jury deliberates on Oct. 24, 2018. Sheffer, 37, is accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl.
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Matthew Sheffer leaves the Centre County Courthouse as the jury deliberates on Oct. 24, 2018. Sheffer, 37, is accused of molesting an 11-year-old girl.

After spending more than two years in jail and sitting through two mistrials, a 37-year-old Juniata County man was found guilty of all charges Thursday, including the repeated rapes of an 11-year-old girl.

Seven women and five men deliberated for about two and a half hours before convicting Matthew Sheffer of 10 counts of child rape, one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, three counts of aggravated indecent assault and 14 counts of indecent assault.

State police at Rockview accused Sheffer of molesting the child in 2016 while her mother was at work and away from their Millheim residence.

“We’re really relieved, our family can move on and he’s not not going to hurt anybody else again,” her father said on behalf of the family. “Justice was served.”

In his closing argument after a three-day trial, Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw said Sheffer took advantage of a child who was raised in an unsteady environment. Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramos, meanwhile, said the child’s story “doesn’t make sense.”

“The foundation of our lives is laid by the people who care for us as children,” McGraw said. “(She) looked to Matthew Sheffer to be her father. She loved him, she trusted him … and then he ripped it all away.”

The only thing the two agreed on was the motive behind the crime — control.

Ramos previously said the case was a “really, really ugly custody dispute” between Sheffer and her father, who still lives in Maine with his family.

“It’s been hell. It’s been hell, but she is stronger,” he said. “She’s been stronger each time and she’s relieved she got justice. As for us, it’s an emotional roller coaster that paid off in the end.”

The emotional roller coaster included four trips to Pennsylvania during the past three years. It also included meetings with both former District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller’s office and current DA Bernie Cantorna’s office.

And throughout all three trials, he abided by his daughter’s requests to stay out of the courtroom when she testified.

“It’s just horrific. The details, and me as a father, I didn’t know them all. I still don’t,” he said. “She had a hard time dealing with it. We as adults can take it, but she shouldn’t have to. She shouldn’t had to ever go through any of this.”

He also thanked the jury, Somerset County Senior Judge David Klementik and state police at Rockview investigator Jeffrey Ebeck, who said Sheffer’s trial was his last.

The family, though, looks forward to healing and getting back together.

“It’s never gonna go away for her. She just has some satisfaction that he’s not ever gonna be able to bug her again. She gets the satisfaction of knowing that she did this,” he said. “It was her and her strength alone. It was all her.”

Sheffer is scheduled to be sentenced May 3.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.


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