By Alex Bridges
WOODSTOCK -- A rare move by prosecutors has delayed the trial of a former Shenandoah County teacher accused in a student-related hazing incident.
Nicholas R. Greco appeared in Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to charges of hazing, assault and battery by mob and seven counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor -- all misdemeanors.
Greco resigned as a teacher at Peter Muehlenburg Middle School in January. He also coached the junior varsity football team at Central High School.
Authorities accuse Greco of inciting at least seven players on Oct 31 to haze a fellow student who had apparently fallen asleep in class. The incident left the 13-year-old boy with cuts and bruises, according to authorities. Court documents indicate a similar incident involving a different student athlete occurred about a month earlier.
At the start of the trial, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Louis Campola asked retired Judge Marvin C. Hillsman Jr. to close the proceedings to the public and the media because juveniles were expected to testify. Defense attorneys Ian R.D. Williams and his daughter Anne Williams argued that state law gives adult defendants the right to an open trial. Hillsman sided with the defense and kept the trial open but ordered witnesses to remain outside the courtroom until called to testify.
The Daily does not publish the names of juvenile defendants, victims or witnesses in court cases.
Campola told Hillsman, who served as a substitute judge in the court that day, that Chief Judge William H. Logan Jr. usually closes all hearings and trials involving juveniles, either as defendants or witnesses. Hillsman said he based his ruling to open the trial on statute and not "local practice."
The trial proceeded and the first of two teenaged boys identified as victims testified about both alleged hazing incidents. Campola sought through the boy's testimony to show that the incidents occurred as a part of a tradition.
The boy, testifying as the victim in an alleged incident in September, told the court that he had fallen asleep in Greco's class and that later some of his teammates smacked him on his buttocks as he walked through the locker room. At some point, the boy recalled, he fell and two players held him down by the arm as other students hit him on the rear.
In response to questioning by the defense, the boy testified that he did not report the incident to Greco and had not been involved in any similar acts before. He said he was not hurt in the assault.
"I would suppose that I didn't feel that it needed to be reported and I didn't feel I was endangered," the boy said.
The boy also testified as a witness to the assault on the second victim authorities say occurred Oct. 31. The incident happened near the KFC restaurant on Reservoir Road as a group of players walked from the McDonald's back to the Central campus. The boy testified that a fellow student smacked the second victim on the buttocks. At some point, the victim fell to the ground and suffered a cut on his leg, the witness said. The victim curled up in the fetal position during the incident, he said.
Eventually the students made it back to the locker room at Central High School. The witness said that several players made the victim sit in an open locker and they took a photograph of the student. The witness recalled that at some point he and other students helped clean the victim's cut on his leg.
The witness said that a similar incident happened to a student athlete the year prior.
After the witness testified, Campola asked for a recess. Hillsman recessed the court but met with attorneys in his chambers to discuss Campola's renewed request to close the trial. Following the recess, the judge and attorneys returned to resume the trial. At this point, Campola indicated that he wished to appeal Hillsman's ruling on keeping the trial open.
Hillsman advised that should the parent of a witness subpoenaed to testify in a trial prevent his or her child from taking the stand, the adult could not only risk being found in contempt of court but may also face a charge of obstruction of justice.
Hillsman called Campola's appeal "ill-fated." But in spite of Ian Williams' arguments against halting the trial, Hillsman said the fate of Campola's appeal would be up to a judge in the circuit court.
Ian Williams argued that stopping the proceedings midstream to allow Campola to file an appeal could create a "trial de novo" situation, or a new trial by a different tribunal. Hillsman pointed out that he may not be the judge presiding over the trial when the matter is rescheduled in the court after a circuit judge rules on Campola's appeal.
Outside the courtroom, Ian Williams said this was the first time in his 40 years of practicing law that he had seen a prosecutor push for an appeal of a judge's ruling.
It was not clear Thursday afternoon when a judge in Shenandoah County Circuit Court would hear the appeal.
Greco, 34, of 107 Black Oak Drive, Maurertown, remains free on bond.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org