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MERCER COUNTY Incident in court leads to charge



Published: Fri, January 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The man was observing a Sharpsville woman's trial, in which she's accused of assaulting her daughter's teacher.

By MARY GRZEBIENIAK

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

MERCER -- A Farrell man who stopped to watch a common pleas court trial was charged with disorderly conduct after jurors reported he was making what could be considered intimidating gestures toward them.

Ronald Harden, 34, of Wallace Avenue was questioned for two hours at the courthouse Thursday then released after investigators determined he did not pose a threat.

He will appear before District Justice Ruth French at a date to be set. He could be fined several hundred dollars if found guilty of the offense.

District Attorney James Epstein said it appears Harden's behavior was simply a way of expressing his reaction to courtroom testimony. He was in the courthouse for a relative's hearing in another courtroom.

What jurors said: Jurors had reported Harden was making a "thumbs down" sign, staring sternly at jurors, and making other facial gestures. The incident occurred during the trial of Victoria Morrison, 33, of Ridge Avenue, Sharpsville, who is charged with an aggravated assault on her daughter's sixth-grade teacher, Lewis Rosa, last February in front of a roomful of pupils at Sharpsville Middle School.

After jurors reported what they observed, Judge Francis Fornelli halted testimony and interviewed jurors one by one, asking if they felt intimidated or unable to be impartial as a result.

Jurors said they were not intimidated and that the incident would not affect their impartiality. The judge also told each juror that Harden was neither related to nor acquainted with Morrison and had not been invited into the courtroom by her.

No request for mistrial: Morrison declined to ask for a mistrial, although Judge Fornelli told her she had the right to make the request.

Testimony resumed with school principal Walter Karsonovich and guidance counselor Thomas Bonaquist testifying. Bonaquist said he heard Morrison yelling at Rosa and Karsonovich said she allowed him to escort her from the building.

Rosa, who has heart problems, testified that he has suffered chest discomfort since the incident in which Morrison struck and jabbed at him, Epstein said.

Morrison testified she had no physical contact with Rosa. She also denied raising her voice or losing her temper.

On Wednesday, 21 pupils testified, all but four of them stating they saw some contact. The most common description was poking. Some called it shoving or striking, Epstein said.

The incident occurred when Morrison came to the school as a result of Rosa's handling of a matter in which her daughter was caught passing a note.

The trial resumed today with closing arguments and the charge to the jury.




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