Monday, 9 May 2011

Sex offenses result in life sentence Helsel becomes first in state to receive life in prison for sexual abuse of children by Advocates Forabandonedadolescents

HOLLIDAYSBURG - A 31-year-old Altoona man with a history of sexual abuse against children became the first person in Pennsylvania sentenced to life in prison under the three-strikes provision of Megan's Law.
David Allen Helsel, who two years ago dragged two girls, ages 12 and 14, to Prospect Park in Altoona, then took the younger girl at knifepoint into the woods and attempted to rape her, sat stoically throughout Friday's sentencing hearing before Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle.
Helsel's attorney, Douglas Keating, argued that his client did not meet the criteria as a three-strikes offender and contended Helsel should have received a sentence of 25 years as a second-strike offender.
Blair County Assistant District Attorney Dan Kiss convinced Doyle that Helsel should be sentenced to life behind bars because of his sentence in 2000 to 10 years in prison for separate offenses of rape of a child.
Helsel was freed in 2009 from a state prison after completing his minimum sentence. Four months later, he committed the crimes that landed him before Doyle.
Kiss said that ever since Helsel was a juvenile, he "has raped and pillaged his way through Blair County." He said the three-strikes provision of Megan's Law, passed to protect children from child sexual offenders, was meant for people like Helsel.
Keating said his client denied any sexual offenses against children when he was a juvenile.
No criminal offenses were ever brought stemming from a report to Blair County Children, Youth & Families when he was a juvenile. But when Helsel was 18, he committed two child rapes four months apart, according to his record.
Keating argued that those two rapes, for the purposes of sentencing, should have been considered as one offense because Helsel was sentenced to both charges at the same sentencing hearing.
He said the law considered the two offenses in 2000 as one offense because Helsel wasn't given the opportunity to rehabilitate himself between his commission of the crimes.
Kiss said he reviewed the legislative history of the three-strikes law and said there was no doubt the Pennsylvania General Assembly wanted tough sentencing for child sexual offenders.
In a ruling that likely will be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Doyle concluded Megan's Law means "one victim equals one strike."
Doyle ruled the two instances in 2000 represented the first two strikes, with the third strike stemming from the June 2009 incident.
In that case, Altoona police were summoned to Prospect Park when the 14-year-old ran away from Helsel and sought help at the nearby Bavarian Aid Society. After a chase, police arrested him after finding him attempting to hide under a pile of leaves.
The mother of the younger victim made an emotional plea to Doyle.
"I want to ask you for all our mothers, please put this man away for life. He should not be on the street. He could have raped my daughter. He could have killed my daughter," the distraught mother said.
She said it is typical for children to walk to the city pools and parks in the summer and to play in their backyards - yet here was a man walking around who had committed two child rapes.
"I want justice. This man should never be on the street," she said.
A Blair County jury in January convicted Helsel on 15 charges, including indecent exposure, terroristic threats, corruption of minors, simple assault, recklessly endangering others and harassment.
The two offenses that led to life behind bars were criminal attempt at rape of a child and criminal attempt at rape of a child by forcible compulsion. The attempted rape offenses represented the "third strike" against Helsel.
"As a whole, this court feels these sentences are necessary and appropriate. They will protect the community from the defendant who has demonstrated by his actions, current and past, he is a danger to the community," Doyle said.
According to legal briefs prepared by both attorneys, Pennsylvania's higher courts have ruled that sentencing individuals for multiple crimes such as burglary and robbery at the same time constitutes only one offense.
Kiss said that the three-strikes provision under Megan's Law is different, however, because the General Assembly considered sexual offenses against children "more devastating" than other types of crimes.
Keating said he planned to appeal on the three-strike issue.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.

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