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May 4, 2007

Charges against 4 of 6 PSU players dropped

BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Two Penn State football players were ordered to stand trial Friday after authorities said they were involved in an off-campus fight, while charges were dismissed against four other players.

Centre County District Judge Carmine Prestia ruled at a preliminary hearing that there was enough evidence against Anthony Scirrotto and Chris Baker in the April 1 melee at an apartment that their cases should go to trial.

Scirrotto, called by Assistant District Attorney Steve Sloane the "first lynchpin of responsibility," and Baker face charges including burglary, criminal trespass, simple assault and harassment.

A formal arraignment is scheduled within a month, and Scirrotto's attorney Roy Lisko said a trial date would likely be set for early August - about the time Penn State begins preseason practice.

Prestia dismissed charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief against Baker. He also dropped all charges, including criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment, against three other players: Jerome Hayes, Lydell Sargeant and Tyrell Sales.

Prosecutors withdrew the same three charges against Justin King at the start of the eight-hour proceeding Friday, citing a lack of evidence. King, a promising cornerback and a prized recruit for coach Joe Paterno in 2005, smiled as he left the courthouse and declined comment.

Scirrotto's family was visibly upset, and his father stormed out of the courtroom in anger minutes after hearing Prestia's ruling.

The ruling capped a long day of testimony over what happened just after midnight April 1 at the apartment right across the street from the Penn State campus in State College. Just 45 minutes earlier, police said, Scirrotto and his girlfriend, who were going out for food, were confronted on a street not far from the apartment.

Bernd Imle Jr. testified Friday that he and two friends had run into Scirrotto and his girlfriend on his way to the party, and Imle's friends and Scirrotto began arguing after the girlfriend spit on the street. Imle said he did not know Scirrotto.

Imle said there was some pushing and shoving, and that he threw a punch at Scirrotto. The Penn State safety also repeatedly yelled that he was a football player and would call his teammates, Imle testified.

Scirrotto had been at another party with his brother and a friend, Andrew Gross, before leaving to get food, Gross said. He said Scirrotto's brother received a call from Anthony about a fight, and that he accompanied Scirrotto's brother to check on Anthony.

Police said in a criminal complaint that Scirrotto followed Imle into the building following the street altercation. Gross testified that friends were trying to calm Scirrotto down, though Scirrotto was "not in a rage."

According to witness testimony and the police complaint, Scirrotto made another phone call, and soon others, including football players, arrived.

Gross said a group made their way to the apartment complex again, but initially went to the wrong building, before finding the building in which Imle was attending the party.

Scirrotto had several opportunities to defuse the situation in the 45 minutes between the street confrontation and the fight, Sloane said, and he was the only person who could direct the group to the correct building.

"In truth, if Mr. Scirrotto didn't do what he did, then none of these kids would be here," Sloane argued in court. "This one person and one stupid mistake ... has caused more problems than he thought he possibly could have caused."

Imle said a group of men arrived after he got to the party. Baker, a defensive lineman, started punching him while two other players surrounded him, Imle said.

"I was thrown over a couch. I tried getting up but I was punched a couple more times," Imle said.

Lisko, argued that the events leading up to the fight and the melee itself were the result of a "pack mentality," and he said there was no evidence that his client harmed anyone.

Baker's attorney, Joseph Amendola, said he would outline Baker's defense at trial, since Friday's hearing was only to determine whether charges could be carried over.

In dropping charges against Hayes, Sales and Sargeant, Prestia said "They were there, but charges against them are weak at best."

Two of the apartment's tenants testified that King was inside but not a participant in the melee. Defense attorney Ron McGlaughlin said outside court that King, his client, was only trying to keep peace and pull people out.



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