Just returned from the Media courthouse, where the child-molestation trial of former Delaware County Magisterial District Judge Gerald Liberace took a bizarre turn today.
The background if you haven't been following: Liberace, 69, a former Republican judge in Haverford, is charged with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor. State prosecutors say he groped a 12-year-old girl in 2004 when he was caring for her alone. The investigation included wiretapped conversations in which the alleged victim elicited from Liberace what could be perceived as a partial confession. The girl is now an 18-year-old college freshman.
The trial was originally set to begin Dec. 1, but it was postponed until this week because a key witness – the girl's mother – failed to show up to testify. When she took the stand today to answer questions from Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo, jurors heard about a potential motive for her absence.
The mother, whose name I am withholding to protect the identity of her daughter, told Costanzo that Liberace got her a job at a credit union, where she subsequently took out a $17,000 car loan. She then acknowledged, under repeated questioning, that the credit union, where Liberace is the secretary-treasurer, had also fronted her about $8,000 for breast implants.
Costanzo said in court today that the girl's mother – who previously worked for Liberace at Haverford District Court – had been hauled back in front of a grand jury a few weeks ago after she skipped Liberace's original trial date. That might be an indicator that she's in some legal trouble herself. During a recess, Constanzo declined to discuss the grand-jury proceedings because they are secret. He wouldn't comment on whether the mother could face any charges.
After testifying today, the mother sat on the defense side of the courtroom with Liberace's supporters. Liberace, who was sworn in as a judge in 1976, is expected to take the stand tomorrow. His attorney, Mark Much, called nine character witnesses, who described the defendant as a "gentle soul," a "good-hearted man" and someone who'd "give you the shirt off his back."
Liberace also looked slightly bored, sitting at the defense table instead of at the judge's bench where he'd spent much of his career. He occasionally leaned back in his chair, propping up his head with his hand, or absentmindedly peeled the label off a water bottle.
It's been a rough stretch for Delaware County district judges. Former Judge Anthony Truscello, the self-described "Wizard of Folcroft," did jail time last year for tampering with public records. Former Judge David Murphy, of Aston, pleaded guilty in July to forgery, identity theft and related offenses for forging signatures on his nominating petitions, and continuing to collect a paycheck depite the criminal probe.
Friday Update: Liberace was expected to testify today, but at the last minute decided not to. Jurors are typically told not to draw any conclusions when a defendant declines to testify. But it's hard not to, especially in this type of case. The trial will resume Tuesday.