All Criminal Charges Against George Harasz Are Dismissed

Date: 2014-10-28

By David Owens

HARTFORD — All criminal charges against George Harasz, a former Glastonbury man who was accused of sexually assaulting boys that he and his former husband adopted through the state Department of Children and Families, were dismissed Tuesday at Superior Court.

Harasz's former husband, Douglas Wirth, was found not guilty after a trial last month.

Prosecutor Anthony Bochicchio told Judge Joan K. Alexander on Tuesday that the 8-year-old boy whose allegations of sexual assault against Harasz would have been the subject of his trial was not capable of testifying.

Bochicchio said that the boy, along with his DCF social worker and court-appointed guardian, attended a preparation session Friday at the courthouse in Hartford. The boy became physically and emotionally overwhelmed, and shut down, when questioned about the abuse that he said he had endured.

"All agreed that it would be in the best interest of the complainant not to testify," Bochicchio said, adding that he could not ethically bring the case to trial.

In addition to not being able to testify, the boy broke out in a rash and made a new disclosure that was not consistent with previous statements, Bochicchio said.

"I could not in good conscience go forward with this case," Bochicchio said, adding that DCF Commissioner Joette Katz agreed with his decision not to proceed to trial.

Bochicchio said that he was planning to nolle, or not prosecute, the charges against Harasz, but defense attorneys Hubert J. Santos and Trent Lalima asked Alexander to dismiss them.

"Mr. Harasz, your charges are dismissed today," Alexander said.

Alexander's decision Tuesday followed a hearing in which the 8-year-old's foster mother and the boy's older brother urged the judge to allow the case to proceed to trial.

Outside court, Harasz hugged and talked with about a dozen friends, family members and supporters.

"I have always maintained my innocence throughout this process," he said in a written statement. "This has been an incredibly painful experience as I have lost my family and husband. It pains me that errors in the investigation have made me pay a great price for a crime that never happened, but I was always confident the truth would come out."

Wirth's trial was based on the charges brought by one son, who is now 19. Wirth, 46, and Harasz, 51, were accused of sexually and physically abusing him for several years. The 19-year-old was one of nine boys that the couple adopted through DCF.

Bochicchio told Alexander on Tuesday that he decided not to proceed to trial with the allegations brought by the 19-year-old because of problems with his credibility highlighted by Judge Julia D. Dewey when she found Wirth not guilty.

As recently as last week, the 8-year-old's therapist, social worker and guardian believed that he could testify and recommended that he do so, Bochicchio said. But the boy's fragile state of mind was already known. On Oct. 16, Judge Hunchu Kwak approved a prosecution request to allow the boy to testify with Harasz out of the courtroom.

Although the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a person accused of a crime the right to confront a witness against him and to be present at trial, Kwak ruled that there was a compelling reason to put aside the face-to-face confrontation that normally occurs at trial.

The boy, the judge found, was emotionally fragile and had a great fear of Harasz and Wirth, and would be so intimidated by having to testify in the presence of Harasz that it would affect his trustworthiness.

Bochicchio also told Alexander that he had spoken with the boy's foster mother and others, who asked that previous video-recorded interviews of the boy be used at trial. He said he could not use the video because the defense had a right to cross-examine the accuser.

"You cannot proceed to trial … without a complaining witness," he said.

The boy's foster mother, who attended Tuesday's hearing, told the judge that the boy told her that weekend that he did want to tell his story. She said the boy was not properly prepared and thought that he was going to court to see what the courtroom looked like. The questioning, she said, caught him by surprise.

"I want to tell them, I have to," she said the boy told her on Sunday.

Alexander told the boy's foster mother that testifying at trial can be very difficult, even for adults.

The mother asked if there was a possibility of delaying the trial, and Alexander told her there was not.

"The man who did this is in his eyes walking free," the mother told the judge. "This is a child who is going to be sentenced for life with this."

Alexander told the mother that the criminal proceedings against Harasz were ending, but that civil proceedings could be pursed.

The 19-year-old who testified at Wirth's trial urged the judge to allow his little brother to testify, to "tell everybody what happened to him." He said that he could not understand how such a young boy could be expected to get on with his life without having the opportunity to speak about it and then move on.

"Therapy is not enough and never will be," he said. "I've been in therapy for 10 years and I still struggle. He needs a chance to speak, like I had."

Santos focused his comments on DCF, which he said should have been on trial.

The DCF never told Harasz and Wirth when they adopted the nine boys that the boys had suffered sexual abuse in the past. "That's right at their feet," Santos said. "They should be on trial."

"My client never abused anybody," Santos said, and, in fact, was held out as a model by the DCF when he adopted the boys.

"What DCF did was take my client's family away from him," Santos said.

Prosecutor David Zagaia, who previously handled the case, reached a plea agreement in January 2013 with Wirth and Harasz in which each man would have pleaded no contest to a single felony charge of risk of injury to a minor. Neither would have gone to prison. The deal fell apart in April 2013 after DCF objected and new allegations of abuse surfaced. The new allegations were investigated, but no new charges were filed.

Alexander allowed the men to withdraw their no-contest pleas and take their cases to trial.

Wirth and Harasz's parental rights were terminated and the boys are in the care of other foster families or on their own.


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