Friday, August 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tattoo artist guilty of 170 child sex-abuse crimes, escape plot

Walter Meyerle, 35, of Falls Township preyed on children ages 4 to 17 over a 13-year period, a county judge ruled.

Tattoo artist guilty of 170 child sex-abuse crimes, escape plot

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Walter Meyerle is escorted to court on Tuesday, where he was fiound guilty on 170 counts of child sex abuse, possession of chikld pornography and plotting a prison escape. (Bill Reed/Staff)

"Look up ‘sexual predator’ in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of Walter Meyerle,” said an observer at the tattoo artist’s child sex-abuse trial in Doylestown.

Meyerle, 35, of Falls Township, was found guilty Tuesday in Bucks County Court of 170 counts of sex crimes against 15 children ages 4 to 17, possession of child pornography and plotting to break out of the county prison.

“In my recollection, this guy is the worst in Bucks County for the number of victims,” said David Heckler, who has served as a county judge and now as district attorney for 14 years.

Sentencing will be scheduled after a 90-day sexual-predator evaluation required by Megan’s Law, but Meyerle faces a lifetime in prison, said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Schorn, who handled the case.

“I fear he will harm again if he has the chance and will try to escape if he has the chance, so I hope he spends the rest of his life in jail,” Schorn said.

A few victims, relatives and friends cried as Judge Diane E. Gibbons issued her ruling, reading every charge and naming each victim (The Inquirer is withholding their names).

Meyerle sat, handcuffed, with his two court-appointed lawyers and showed no reaction.

“There was no doubt he victimized all 15 victims over an extended period of time,” Gibbons said. “He is a danger to the community, to young girls, young boys, adolescent girls, adolescent boys, and adults.”

According to the accounts of victims, relatives and police, Meyerle gained access to many of the children through their parents, who invited him into their homes or allowed the children to stay in his Bristol Borough house. Some of the children were siblings or friends of his victims, according to the accounts presented in the non-jury trial.

He would quickly escalate the abuse from fondling to intercourse, violating “every orifice of their bodies,” Schorn said in her closing argument.

The relationships lasted weeks or months, with Meyerle also demanding phone sex from several of the teenagers, according to the accounts. He persuaded some of them to send him naked photos of themselves, which he then used to blackmail them, the victims said.

He and a 17-year-old Croydon girl exchanged thousands of texts, most involving phone sex, according to records from his cell phone.

“It’s sad that a freshman in high school thinks that a 35-year-old man is her boyfriend,” Schorn said in her closing argument. “She’s in the hospital” after a car accident, “and he calls her at the regular time for phone sex.

“It shows how they [Meyerle’s victims] felt about him and the control he had over them.”

Meyerle was first charged in March 2011 with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Croydon girl after her aunt noticed a tattoo that Meyerle had given her illegally, according to accounts. The aunt had been a victim of Meyerle several years earlier when she was a teen, according to her account.

After the charges were announced at a press conference, 14 other victims came forward and were willing to testify, Schorn said.

Gibbons found Meyerle guilty of rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with minors, aggravated indecent assault, sexual assault, and statutory sexual assault, all felonies. He also was found guilty of dozens of misdemeanor charges.

Because Meyerle had tried to escape from prison, Gibbons revoked his $6 million bail. She also ruled that he cannot come in contact with any of his victims, any witnesses in the case, or anyone he contacted to plan his escape, including his wife.

Meyerle and his parents, who sat through most of the five-day trial, declined to comment on the verdict.

His strategy from the start was to get a verdict and appeal Gibbons’ pre-trial rulings, which allowed most of the prosecution’s evidence, Meyerle’s lawyers said.

Instead of a jury trial, he chose a stipulated waiver trial, in which witnesses’ accounts were entered into evidence by the presecution. His lawyers stipulated that the accounts accurately represented the witnesses’ testimony, but not necessarily the facts.

Meyerle also declined to testify and directed his lawyers to not present a defense or closing arguments.

Co-defense counsel Craig Penglase said post-sentence motions and notice of appeal to Superior Court will be prepared, but they cannot be filed until Gibbons issues the sentence.

“I believe [the Megan’s Law evaluation] to be a waste of time,” Gibbons said of the 90-day period, “but it is required by law, so I will comply.”

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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