SYRACUSE (WFAN/AP) — New York state must lengthen the statute of limitations to bring charges of child sex abuse, a victims’ advocate said in response to a prosecutor’s statement that it’s too late to investigate two men’s claims that they were molested by former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse are “denied basic legal rights,” said the Rev. Robert Hoatson of the advocacy group Road to Recovery.
“If there ever was a case that screamed ‘injustice,’ it is this one, since it glaringly displays the further damage that antiquated laws can inflict on victims,” Hoatson said in a statement.
Two men, Bobby Davis and Michael Lang, say Fine abused them when they were boys in the 1980s. The statute of limitations expired five years after the alleged abuse occurred. On Wednesday, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said he believed Fine abused the men but said he could not bring state charges because the statute of limitations had expired.
“On almost every single criteria, Bobby Davis came out as a credible person,” Fitzpatrick said. “Mike Lang also comes across as a credible person.”
“Statutes of limitations promote silence rather than speaking out, and statutes force victims to live with the effects of their abuse with the knowledge that nothing can be done about them,” Hoatson said.
A third accuser, Zach Tomaselli, sued Fine on Thursday in Pittsburgh for abuse he says happened in 2002 when the team played a road game there.
The U.S. attorney’s office is investigating. The federal statute of limitations in place in 2002, when Tomaselli says he was abused by Fine in a hotel room, allowed a victim to bring charges until he was 25; Tomaselli is 23.
Fine, who was fired, has denied the claims. And Fitzpatrick has said school and travel records may undercut Tomaselli’s account.
Fitzpatrick lashed out at Fine and added other names to the list of what he says are victims: Fine’s longtime friend, Hall of Fame Coach Jim Boeheim, the university and the city.
“Hasn’t Bernie Fine caused enough pain in this community?” Fitzpatrick said.
Davis went to the Syracuse Post-Standard newspaper in 2002 and ESPN in 2003; neither media outlet could corroborate his claims. He went to the police, too, in 2002, and a detective told him the statute of limitations had expired. Three years later, he went to the university; Syracuse had its lawyers do an internal investigation and says it, too, couldn’t verify Davis’ accusations.
Then, on Nov. 17, with the country still caught up in the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State, where a former assistant football coach is accused of molesting 10 boys, Davis came forward on ESPN. Then Lang came forward. Ten days later, Tomaselli spoke out. That day, Nov. 27, ESPN aired a tape in which a woman it identified as Fine’s wife tells Davis she knew “everything” that was going on.
The university fired Fine that day.
Fitzpatrick said if the claims had been brought within the statute, and if law enforcement knew of the tape, which he called “devastating,” it would have resulted in “the arrest of Bernie Fine for child molestation.”
Fine, who was fired Nov. 27, has denied the charges.
“Bobby, I’m sorry it took so long,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wish I had met you as a prosecutor in 2002. Even more importantly, I wish I had met you as a prosecutor back in the 1980s. We wouldn’t be here today.”
The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse, but the accusers in the Syracuse case have come forward publicly and agreed to be identified.
When he went public again last month, Davis was maligned by Boeheim as an opportunist and a liar, accusations the coach later apologized for, saying he was defending a friend out of loyalty without knowing all the information. Victim advocates called for him to quit or be fired. Fitzpatrick said Boeheim, one of the top college coaches in the nation, whose team is currently ranked No. 3, was victimized by Fine, too.
Fine’s lawyers, Donald Martin and Karl Sleight, said in a statement that it appears records Fitzpatrick has turned over to the defense show “that there is proof that Tomaselli fabricated this allegation.”
Tomaselli also is charged in Maine with molesting a teenage boy and said this week that he’ll plead guilty.
The 65-year-old Fine had been Boeheim’s top assistant since 1976. The U.S. attorney’s office is investigating and has seized computers, cameras, phones and records during searches of his office, home and locker.
Repeated attempts by The Associated Press to contact Davis, Lang and Fine have been unsuccessful. Knocks on the doors of the accusers’ houses were unanswered Wednesday after Fitzpatrick’s statement.
A woman hanging lights outside the Fines’ house said the couple is in Florida.
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