Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tattoo artist waives defense in child sex-abuse trial

Walter Meyerle, 35, of Falls Township, will try to get the "overwhelming evidence" reduced on appeal, his lawyer said. He is charged with about 200 crimes against 15 children ages 4 to 17 over a 13-year period.

Tattoo artist waives defense in child sex-abuse trial

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Walter Meyerle is escorted out of court during his five-day trial in Doylestown. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Walter Meyerle, the tattoo artistcharged with about 200 sex-abuse crimes against 15 children ages 4 to 17, declined to present a defense Friday, pinning his chances on an appeal.

Bucks County Court Judge Diane E. Gibbons spent a half-hour reviewing the charges and possible sentences, which could add up to hundreds of years in prison.

"If you're doing the math, it's beyond your lifetime," Gibbons said as she outlined the mamximum and mandatory minimum sentence with each felony and misdemeanor count.

She then scheduled her verdict for 2 p.m., Tuesday, after she reviews nearly 3,000 pages of documents, five binders of evidence and 52 exhibits  admitted during the five-day trial.

“The decision to not testify or present a defense is yours, not mine or your lawyers,” Gibbons told Meyerle, as he stood, handcuffed, next to his two court-appointfd lawyers. “I may not infer guilt or anything negative from you deciding not to testify or present evidence.”

Responding to questions from the judge and his lawyers, Meyerle indicated he had had access to all police reports and defense lawyers, that he was satisfied with his representation, and that no one had forced him to waive his right to present evidence, to testify and to have a lawyer make closing arguments.

“This is the time to present the facts,” Gibbons told Meyele. “Other courts will rely on the evidence presented in this trial.”  

Meyerle told his lawyers of his decision to waive his defense on Thursday, they said after court was adjourned.

“The focus the whole time has been on pre-trial motions,” lead defense lawyer Michael Goodwin said. “There was overwhelming evidence, so the focus is on the legal issues of the case.”

Meyerle lost pre-trial motions that challenged search warrants, arrest warrants, and warrants to download data from his computers and cell phone, Goodwin said.

He also lost challenges to the judge’s decision to consolidate the cases and to schedule the trial without giving his lawyers sufficient time to prepare, Goodwin said.

“He has a lot of arguable issues,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin and Craig Penglase were appointed to defend Meyerle, 35, of Falls Township, in late June, after his lawyer quit the case.

Goodwin declined to say whether he’d ever had a client waive a defense.

Meyerle also waived a jury trial, choosing a stipulated waiver trial, in which witnesses’ testimony was read in court. His lawyers stipulated that the accounts accurately represented the testimony, but not necessarily the accuracy of the facts.

For four days, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn read graphic accounts from alleged victims, relatives, and investigating officers. She also presented hours of text messages of Meyerle allegedly demanding phone sex from a 17-year-old Croydon girl.

More than 50 pieces of child pornography allegedly downloaded from Meyerle's computers were admitted as evidence, including a video that choked up a veteran police officer as he described the depraved content.

“This defendant preyed upon children for 13 years,” Schorn said in her closing arguments.

“These victims deserve their justice be served today,” she said, glancing at a few young women in the gallery.

The 15 alleged victims were identified in court, but The Inquirer is withholding their names.

Afterward, Schorn commended the “courageous” victims for coming forward to tell their stories.

If Meyerle is found guilty, sentencing will be delayed at least 90 days for a “sexual violent predator” evaluation, as required by Megan’s Law.

He could appeal a conviction to Superior Court, which could exclude some of the evidence against him and send the case back to county court for a retrial, Goodwin said. If Meyerle were to lose in Superior Court, he could appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“If he lost there, there are other avenues he could take,” Goodwin said.

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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