Ex-judge's molestation case heads to jury

Posted: January 05, 2011

A former Delaware County judge will himself be judged today when jury deliberations begin in the child-molestation trial against him.

Closing arguments in the case against longtime Haverford District Court Judge Gerald Liberace spanned more than five hours yesterday and included recordings of wiretapped phone conversations between Liberace and his alleged victim, now 18.

The alleged victim claims that when she was a child, Liberace, now 69, repeatedly touched her buttocks in inappropriate ways and that once, when she was 12, he rubbed her vagina while she was in his care overnight. She first spoke of the allegations to her mother and disclosed them to a psychiatrist and police in 2009, according to court testimony.

The trial, which began last week, has taken some unusual turns. The alleged victim's mother, whose name and relationship to Liberace are being withheld to protect her daughter's identity, has sat on the defense side of the courtroom in support of Liberace, who got the woman her current job. The alleged victim is being supported by her father and stepmother.

Then yesterday, after a thorough, 2 1/2-hour closing argument, defense attorney Mark Much threw in a final, unsupported hypothesis that "maybe [the victim] dreamed it."

The prosecution's case lies on the word of the alleged victim and on three wiretapped conversations between her and Liberace in 2009. In the phone calls, the girl asks Liberace for "closure" and an apology.

He admits to rubbing her "rear end" but adds that "I didn't mean anything sexual about it."

"I did things I guess were inappropriate. The only thing I can say is I felt close to you," Liberace says in the calls. "If I did more, it wasn't intentional and I don't remember it."

While Liberace fumbles for the right words, or any words at all during certain points in the conversations, the girl sounds prepped and scripted. On several occasions, Liberace asks her where she is and who is with her.

Senior Deputy Attorney General E. Marc Costanzo told jurors that Liberace should have been more fervent in his denial of the allegations if they did not occur and that Liberace's admission to even rubbing the girl's buttocks is enough to convict him on charges that include corrupting the morals of a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and indecent assault.

"He doesn't react like an innocent man; he reacts like a guilty man," Costanzo said. "Is this the greatest confession of all time? No . . . but you're cooked one way or another when touching is for sexual purposes."

He said the victim had no cause to make up the allegations and if she did, would have most likely made them much more graphic.

"You're making it up. What's the difference? Make it up good," he said. "But it's absurd to believe she'd expose herself to any of this."

Much told the jury that the girl could have made up her story for several reasons. He said that perhaps she was planning a civil suit or wanted to get even with Liberace for something in the past.

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