Judge is off case of Penn professor Rayford Means disqualified himself from resentencing Tracy McIntosh for a sexual assault on a grad student.

Posted: September 08, 2007

Criticizing news coverage but conceding, "I have become the issue," Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford A. Means yesterday disqualified himself from resentencing former University of Pennsylvania professor Tracy McIntosh in a 2002 sexual assault on a Penn graduate student.

"This case will get a fresh start," Means said shortly before ending what was to have been a resentencing ordered by state appeals courts.

McIntosh, 54, of Media, pleaded no contest to sexual assault in a Sept. 6, 2002 incident in his Penn office involving a 23-year-old graduate student, the niece of his friend and former college roommate.

McIntosh's friend had asked him to show the niece around Penn's campus before she started classes. The tour ended with heavy drinking at a series of University City restaurants and bars. When the woman became ill, prosecutors said, McIntosh took her back to his office, where they smoked marijuana, she passed out, and he forced himself on her.

Means set a hearing for Friday when the prosecutor and McIntosh's attorney will meet Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe to schedule resentencing by a new judge.

Neither McIntosh nor the victim was in court. Defense attorney Joel P. Trigiani said Means' chambers contacted him earlier to say that the sentencing would not occur and that neither McIntosh nor his witnesses needed to be present.

Trigiani said he needed to talk with McIntosh about the defense's next step. He would not rule out the possibility that McIntosh might ask to withdraw his no-contest plea.

"I just don't know yet," Trigiani said. "We'll discuss all options. Anything could happen."

Withdrawing a guilty plea is unusual and, because of the lengthy pre-plea colloquy between judge and defendant about the plea's significance, could be difficult to win.

Assistant District Attorney Richard DeSipio said he would oppose an attempt to withdraw the no-contest plea. He said he would urge the new judge to sentence McIntosh to "state prison time of at least 5 1/2 years."

In March 2005, Means, a judge since 1992, was heavily criticized by women's and victims advocates after he sentenced McIntosh, an internationally known researcher into brain trauma, to 11 1/2 to 23 months' house arrest.

Means said a factor in his decision was the societal value of McIntosh's research on treating brain injury at Penn, where he led the Head Injury Research Center at Penn's medical school.

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, whose office sought 5 1/2 to 11 years in prison, appealed the sentence to state Superior Court. Abraham called the sentence too lenient and said Means seemed to feel McIntosh was "too important for prison."

Abraham also asked Means to recuse himself from further involvement in the case, a request Means did not rule on while the appeal was open.

In November, Superior Court vacated McIntosh's sentence and ordered him resentenced by a new judge. The appeals judges wrote that they did not believe Means could "preside objectively and fairly upon remand."

Superior Court wrote that Means treated McIntosh "less as a criminal than as a schoolboy requiring direction and supervision."

In April, the state Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court decision but said Means should be permitted to handle the resentencing.

Means yesterday spent about 15 minutes explaining his decision to step aside, alternately criticizing news coverage, defending his sentence, and explaining why he could no longer judge the case.

"It would appear that I have become the issue and not justice for the victim or justice for the defendants," Means said.

Nevertheless, Means said he would "go to my grave" sure of his decisions: "In my heart of hearts, I know what both sides bargained for."

DeSipio said after court that McIntosh's no-contest plea did not include any deal on sentencing. Means' judgment was again questioned eight months after the sentencing when prosecutors learned that he allowed McIntosh to fly to Italy for a six-month research appointment at a Milan medical facility.

The resulting publicity led the Milan institution to revoke the offer, and McIntosh returned to Philadelphia after just a few days abroad.

McIntosh was terminated by Penn after his arrest, and his attorneys have said he has been impeded in finding work in his field because he may be sent to prison.

In January, Penn and McIntosh reached separate, confidential settlements with the victim, who had filed a civil suit contending that university officials ignored complaints about McIntosh's sexual conduct toward women.

Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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