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Shop teacher held for trial as judge dismisses four charges

by SAM KUSIC on November 14, 2013 11:00 AM

BLAIRSVILLE — A judge has dismissed some of the charges against a teacher accused of having sex with a student, but ordered him to stand trial on the remainder of the 13 counts he faced.

So the case against Blairsville-Saltsburg technology education teacher Todd D. McCullough, 28, of Apollo, will proceed to the Indiana County Court of Common Pleas. McCullough, through his attorney, Duke George, of New Kensington, maintains his innocence.

[PHOTO: Todd McCullough was led into a preliminary hearing in Blairsville by state Trooper Douglas Snyder on Wednesday. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette photo)]

Testifying before District Judge Jennifer Rega at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday, the student, a girl who was a 16-year-old sophomore at the time, said that one day in April 2012 McCullough asked to see her breasts during a conversation they were having while in a school shop together.

The girl said she shrugged the comment off, but later, McCullough led her to a back room, where he exposed himself, she said. The lunch bell then rang, she said, and she left, later telling a friend about what had happened.

Days later, the girl said McCullough summoned her to the shop, pulling her out of another class, and apologized.

“He knew what he did was wrong,” she said.

And sometime after that, while she was in the shop working on a project, McCullough again took her into the back room, where he pulled her pants down and had sex with her, she said.

Although the girl told Rega that she had not reported the incidents to authorities, she decided to break her silence because she has a relative coming up through Saltsburg Middle/High School and did not want McCullough anywhere near her.

Through cross-examination, George tried to cast doubt on the girl’s statements, asking her repeatedly about the dates and times of the incidents, which she couldn’t precisely recall. He also asked repeatedly whether she at any point had tried to resist, call for help, walk away or had reported the incidents to authorities.

She hadn’t, she said.

Rega also heard from Trooper Douglas Snyder, whose testimony suggested the possibility of additional charges against McCullough.

Snyder testified that the reported incidents involving McCullough and the girl weren’t the ones that prompted his investigation — other complaints of McCullough inappropriately touching other girls in his shop class brought police into the fold, he said.

He said that when he initially met with school district administrators, he was not told of any specific allegations involving McCullough and the girl, only that there had been past suspicions of inappropriate contact, which officials said they had looked into.

During her testimony, the girl said that sometime after her reported encounters with McCullough, school officials asked her if anything had occurred. She denied that anything had happened, she said. She said she chose to remain silent because she didn’t want the incidents to interfere with her life.

Police, however, learned of the encounters through their investigation into the other complaints and eventually approached the girl.

It wasn’t until then that she made an official report, she said during her testimony.

Following the hearing, District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said the investigation is ongoing.

But as for the set of charges at hand, Rega dismissed four counts: rape, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, the key element of which was that McCullough had, either through threat or physical force, compelled the girl to have sex with him.

George, however, said prosecutors failed to establish enough evidence supporting that aspect of the accusations.

“There’s no rape here,” he said, arguing that the girl testified McCullough had not used physical force or had threatened her.

In that regard, Rega agreed with the defense, ruling that the prosecution had failed to make an adequate case. However, she said it should be up to a jury to determine whether she had given consent, an element of some of the other felony charges that remain against McCullough.

He is facing counts of sexual assault, institutional sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent exposure and corruption of minors, among others.

Following the hearing, Duke said this is a case of he said, she said.

And in this case, the girl is lying, he said, contending that she had an infatuation with McCullough and made up the story upon learning of his engagement.

According to online court records, McCullough remained in the Indiana County Jail as of this morning, although Rega effectively reduced his bond, changing it from a $150,000 cash bond to a percentage bond.

The reduction came over the objections of Dougherty, who argued that McCullough’s bond, as originally set, was appropriate because, as a schoolteacher, he had violated the public’s trust.

As a condition of his bond, Rega prohibited McCullough from having any contact with the girl and her family and barred him from setting foot on school property or attending school district events.

District officials said McCullough is suspended without pay.

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