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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ind. Decisions - "Appeals court OKs Lebo trial in LaPorte HS volleyball sex case" [Updated]

Yesterday's 2-1 opinion in Marybeth Lebo v. State of Indiana (ILB summary here) is the subject of a story today in the NWI Times, reported by Dan Carden:

The Indiana Court of Appeals gave the go-ahead Friday for a trial to determine whether a former LaPorte High School volleyball coach failed to report an illegal sexual relationship between another coach and a student athlete.

MaryBeth Lebo faces two misdemeanor charges of failing to report child abuse or neglect for allegedly not informing the school, police or Department of Child Services that Robert Ashcraft was engaged in a sexual relationship with the 15-year-old girl.

Lebo is also accused of instructing players not to tell anyone about Ashcraft's 2007-08 relationship with the girl, according to court records.

Ashcraft, 48, was convicted last year of four felonies involving sexual misconduct and sentenced to 21 years in prison.

In February, LaPorte Superior Judge Jennifer Koethe denied Lebo's motion to dismiss the failure-to-report charges.

Lebo argued in her appeal the charges were barred by the two-year statute of limitations and were not specific enough to prove she was aware of Ashcraft's illegal acts.

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court rejected Lebo's statute-of-limitations claim because Lebo allegedly helped conceal Ashcraft's crime. The court also said the failure to report child abuse is a continuing offense under which the duty to report exists so long as a person is aware of the abuse.

In addition, the court said Indiana law does not require actual knowledge of child abuse to prompt a report, just a "reason to believe" abuse is occurring.

The Ashcraft relationship details in the charges against Lebo -- including his leaning on the girl's legs during a movie, putting his arm around her and acting like boyfriend and girlfriend -- met that standard, the appeals court said.

Judge John Baker dissented from that portion of the court's ruling.

He said, in retrospect Ashcraft's actions suggest an inappropriate relationship, but at the time "there is no way that a person in a similar position as Lebo would 'feel certain' that Ashcraft was engaging in illegal sexual acts."

Charles Wilson of the AP reported:
According to court documents, Lebo felt uncomfortable with Ashcraft's physical overtures toward the girl during the 2007-2008 season but instructed her student players not to tell anyone what was going on. Lebo was charged in 2011 with failing to inform police or child protective services.

Lebo claimed the charges didn't prove she was aware of the relationship and that they weren't filed within the two-year statute of limitations.

But the appeals court said the allegations were strong enough to support the charge that Lebo helped to conceal Ashcraft's behavior. The judges ruled that under state law, even a suspicion of sexual abuse must be reported.

The court also said the clock didn't begin running on the statute of limitations until authorities became aware of her actions.

For background, start with this ILB entry from May 26, 2012, and this one from Nov. 30, 2011.

[Updated] Matt Fritz had this story in the Nov. 17th LaPorte Herald Argus.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 17, 2012 01:53 PM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions