WILKES-BARRE — A Luzerne County judge has thrown out the child molestation case against state trooper Patrick Finn, who claimed he was sleeping at the time he touched a young girl and made sexual comments.
Even the child acknowledged Finn was asleep in her testimony, leading Luzerne County Judge Michael T. Vough to grant a defense motion Wednesday, bringing Finn’s jury trial to a sudden end.
“The court finds (the girl) was the most credible witness presented,” Vough said. “There’s not one scintilla of evidence that Mr. Finn was awake.”
Wednesday’s ruling left Finn relieved, while the child’s mother — a former romantic partner — tearfully left court suggesting partiality by Vough, who has long known Finn’s defense attorney, former judge and district attorney Peter Paul Olszewski.
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis offered a more measured response.
“Obviously, we are disappointed that the case cannot proceed to the jury, but the judge decided the evidence as it came out on the witness stand was not sufficient for the case to go to a jury,” Salavantis said Wednesday afternoon.
“Clearly, we have the utmost respect for Judge Vough who is not only an experienced judge but was an experienced attorney prior to his position in the bench,” Salavantis added.
A corporal at the state police barracks in Carlisle, Finn was accused of crawling into bed with the then 9-year-old girl, touching her buttocks and her chest, making inappropriate comments about them and saying he wanted to have sex. The incident allegedly occurred during a December 2016 visit to Finn’s parents’ home in Mountain Top.
He was charged with one misdemeanor count each of corruption of minors and indecent assault.
Testimony in the trial began Tuesday before Vough and a jury of seven women and five men.
The girl’s mother didn’t mention all the details of the girl’s story when applying for a protection from abuse order, Finn’s defense argued in court Wednesday.
One of the key details Olszewski said the girl’s mother left out on that PFA application was the girl’s belief that Finn was asleep at the time of the alleged incident.
Assistant District Attorney Angela Sperrazza called the girl’s mother as the prosecution’s first witness Wednesday morning.
The mother described getting an alarming call from her daughter on the morning of Dec. 4, 2016.
“‘Something bad happened; you have to pick me up,’” the woman said the girl told her. “She wouldn’t give me details over the phone.”
The woman relayed that she eventually picked up her daughter with her boyfriend, George Bivens. A state trooper himself, Bivens held the rank of lieutenant colonel at the time, but has since reverted to the rank of major.
In the car, the girl began to tell the couple of what happened to her. The mother described the girl struggling to tell the story, as she felt uncomfortable using the obscenities she said Finn used.
Eventually, the mother used her phone to record the conversation. Later that day, she and Bivens went to a night court in Dauphin County to apply for an emergency PFA.
On cross-examination, Olszewski attempted to point out issues with the mother’s application.
Playing the recorded conversation for the second day in a row, Olszewski highlighted that the girl said she believed Finn was asleep while he was touching her, her belief that he was mistaking her for his girlfriend and the mother telling her Finn must have confused the two, as he wouldn’t have done that to her.
All of those details were absent from the PFA application, according to Olszewski.
“I was trying to put a big conversation into a small space,” the mother said in response to Olszewski’s questions.
That’s when Olszewski showed the application to jurors. It was clear she had left nearly a full page blank on the form.
Bivens responded under cross-examination that he and the mother were instructed to keep the PFA application short, and that he didn’t believe the girl’s claims of Finn being asleep to be “factually relevant.”
“You didn’t think it was factually relevant, but the PFA judge might have thought it was factually relevant,” Olszewski countered.
Bivens was not allowed to reply, as an objection from Sperrazza was sustained by Vough.
Both Bivens and the mother, though, testified that they never colored or attempted to change the girl’s testimony in any way.
A motion granted
After Sperrazza closed her case, Olszewski filed a motion for a directed verdict, a fairly typical tactic leveled by defense attorneys.
Olszewski said to Vough that Finn never even needed to testify he was asleep, since the girl had done that herself. Sperrazza countered that the girl’s testimony also alluded to conversation with Finn, suggesting that he was awake for it.
After taking a roughly 15-minute recess to consider the motion, Vough ultimately agreed with Olszewski, citing a lack of evidence on the prosecutors’ part. Applause erupted from Finn’s supporters when Vough read his decision.
Outside the courtroom, Olszewski said the case should never have come to criminal court and instead should have gone to family court.
“We certainly know the judge made the right decision, a courageous decision,” he said.
The girl’s mother, with tears in her eyes, told reporters she is “heartbroken” that her daughter didn’t get justice, and that it’s a result of a relationship between Vough and Olszewski.
“I feel the relationship between the judge and the defense attorney goes back a long time, and that’s not fair either,” she said. “It’s not fair for this county, and it’s not fair for this little girl, or other little girls and boys that are in the same position.”
Olszewski previously held the position of Luzerne County district attorney and was also once a county judge.
“He made a choice like he was God,” she said of Vough.
As a result of Vough’s decision, prosecutors’ hands are tied, left without any recourse for an appeal.
“His decision in this matter is final and cannot be appealed so, while we will be evaluating what went wrong and what can be improved upon, we have no further litigation decisions to consider,” Salavantis told the Times Leader.
After the exoneration, Finn spoke briefly to reporters, telling them he’s looking forward to regaining a normal relationship with the girl.
Finn’s procedural ordeal is not over, however. A spokesman from the Pennsylvania State Police said the trooper, who has been suspended without pay since his arrest, will have to undergo an internal investigation now.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan