Vet Stadium sex assault case continues

February 20, 2008 6:23:10 AM PST
The consent of children younger than 13 to sexual activity does not shield the other participants from liability for civil damages, Pennsylvania's highest court ruled Tuesday.

Ruling on a case involving an 11-year-old girl who had a sexual encounter with three teenage boys in Veterans Stadium after a Philadelphia Phillies game in August 2000, the state Supreme Court extended to the civil arena a principle in criminal law that says preteen children cannot consent to sex.

"The Legislature, by criminalizing sexual contact with minors under 13 irrespective of consent, intended to protect young children as a class from being sexually exploited," Justice Max Baer said, writing for the majority in a 4-2 ruling.

"We believe that the preclusion of a minor's consent as a defense to sexual contact also reflects a broader societal notion that sexual contact with children under 13 is, as a general matter, reprehensible regardless of consent," Baer said.

The dissenters, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald D.

Castille, said the majority was going too far and that the court "should be reluctant to effectively supplement existing legislation with provisions our General Assembly did not include."

The girl, who was visiting from out of state and attending the game with a family friend, told police she became separated from her guardian toward the end of the game and wound up in a dark parking lot where she said she was assaulted.

The boys, who were 15 or 16 at the time, denied that any intercourse occurred and said they believed the girl sought them out after meeting them at a concession stand where they worked.

They acknowledged kissing and fondling her, but said she was a willing participant who told them she was 13.

Two of the boys spent time in a juvenile facility after a judge determined they had raped the girl, but the third boy was acquitted of criminal conduct.

Tuesday's ruling on the lawsuit filed by the girl's family overturned a jury's verdict, subsequently upheld by a Superior Court panel, that there was no civil liability on the part of the three boys. That part of the case was remanded to the Philadelphia court for a new trial.

The justices upheld that portion of the jury's verdict that cleared the Phillies organization of any damages.

Two lawyers connected to the case did not return telephone calls seeking comment.