BELLEFONTE, Pa. - Charges against four of six Penn State football players involved in an off-campus fracas were dropped, but the judge ruled yesterday that there was enough evidence against two other players to order them to stand trial.
District Court Judge Carmine Prestia ruled that there was enough evidence against starting safety Anthony Scirrotto of West Deptford, Gloucester County, to send his case to trial. Assistant District Attorney Steve Sloane called Scirrotto "the first linchpin of responsibility" for the April 1 apartment fight that sent two people to the hospital.
Prestia also ordered Chris Baker of Windsor, Conn., to stand trial on charges of burglary, criminal trespass and simple assault but dropped charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Standout starting cornerback Justin King, 19, of Monroeville, Pa., had been charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment, but prosecutors said they were dropping him from the case due to lack of evidence.
Prestia dismissed identical charges against Lydell Sargeant of Lompoc, Calif.; Tyrell Sales of Butler, Pa.; and Jerome Hayes of Bayonne, N.J., after an eight-hour preliminary hearing.
Two of the apartment's tenants said King was inside but not a participant in the melee. Defense attorney Ron McGlaughlin said King, one of the most recognizable players on the team, cooperated fully with police.
Bernd Imle Jr., who attended the party, testified that he saw five others charged by police at the apartment. Imle said 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.
There was some pushing and shoving, and Scirrotto repeatedly said that he was a football player and would call his teammates, Imle testified.
"In truth, if Mr. Scirrotto didn't do what he did, then none of these kids would be here," Sloane said. "This one person and one stupid mistake . . . has caused more problems than he thought he possibly could have caused."
Imle said he then went to the party, and a short time later a group of men arrived. Baker, a defensive lineman, started punching him, and two other players, Sargeant and Hayes, surrounded him, Imle said.
"I was thrown over a couch. I tried getting up but I was punched a couple of more times," Imle said. He also testified that he saw another defendant, Sales, at the apartment.
Another witness, Penn State student Thomas Walsh, also testified that he saw Baker inside the apartment punching someone.
McGlaughlin, King's attorney, said outside court that his client was only trying to keep peace and pull people out.
Police have said a group of men, including the five players charged and King, rushed into the apartment shortly after midnight and a melee ensued.
Some victims were punched, one was hit in the head with a beer bottle and knocked unconscious, and another was punched and kicked in the face, authorities said. At least five students were struck during the fight and at least two of those needed treatment at a hospital, authorities said.
"No one knew who they were or why they would start a fight," said Penn State student Larry Himes, who lived in the apartment.
Scirrotto and King are key members of a secondary that could be one of the best in the Big Ten in 2007. Scirrotto led the conference in interceptions last year, while the speedy King can blanket opposing receivers.
Hayes and Sales could be in the running to start at linebacker, as could Sargeant at cornerback. Baker was expected to help replenish depth on a defensive line that lost three starters.