The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 12, 2012

Slow wheels of justice


Daily Item

---- — Ben Scheller has been waiting for six months to stand trial on charges alleging he sexually assaulted his ex-girlfriend and must now wait another week because the judge originally pegged to preside at the hearing had a potential conflict of interest.

The judge's concern? The judge's secretary had been romantically entwined with a police officer who filed the rape charges and then became involved in a relationship with the alleged victim. The administrative shuffling would matter little except that prosecutors have been slow to bring the case to trial.

There is a c onstitutional right to a fair and speedy trial that is chiefly intended to prevent the government from holding accused people prisoner without expeditiously proving the case against the defendant before a jury of his or her peers. The notion of the speedy trial also provides victims with an expectation that justice will be served in a timely matter.

And then there is the situation in which James Honecker, 55, of Paxinos, finds himself. Honecker, who has multiple scleroris and uses a wheelchair, has been waiting seven years for resolution to the cases stemming from the night that four young men broke into his home. Honecker is still waiting. One of the suspects was apprehended, convicted, sentenced, served his time and has been released from prison. Two others were never arrested. The fourth, Erik Harrington, was arrested two years ago. The prosecution has been stalled by a series of issues, including poor weather and missing witnesses.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini on Monday blamed the delays in the Harrington and Scheller cases on factors outside the control of the prosecutor's office. A more thorough explanation is required, particularly in the handling of the Scheller prosecution. Generally, the inertia contributing to such delays are defense tactics intended to impede witness testimony or allow the trauma of a crime to fade from the public consciousness. In the Scheller case, prosecutors have been responsible for the delays. What is the explanation? As far as the public knows, there was a rape that led to Scheller's arrest.

The public ought to know whether the case has been delayed due to professional decisions or because court officials are trying to avoid conflict and scandal. The justice system should not be managed for the convenience of officials.