Williamsport, Pa. – Conspiracy child endangerment charges were added today to the cases of Matthew and Christine Zeigler, accused of abusing their eight children for decades.
Three Zeigler children still are minors and remain in the dependency system, Children and Youth Services Solicitor John Pietrovito said.
With all Lycoming County judges recused, Potter County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge John B. Leete presided.
"It’s a charge that should’ve been originally included but for other reasons was not and it's appropriate given the current posture of the case that the conspiracy charge be included," Assistant Attorney General Bernard Anderson said.
Helen Stolinas, attorney for Christine Zeigler, and David Lindsay, attorney for Matthew Zeigler, raised no objections. Under the rules of criminal procedure, now is an appropriate time to make amendments, they said.
"We don’t necessarily agree that the facts will bear out an agreement between the parties to endanger the children," Stolinas added.
Stolinas asked the Court to sever the cases on the grounds that sexual abuse allegations against Mr. Zeigler will unduly prejudice the jury against Mrs. Zeigler.
Stolinas said she's likely to present an "antagonistic defense" for Mrs. Zeigler.
"It will essentially be one of explaining his pervasive domestic violence against her as well as the children in the household and essentially one of duress, a situation of duress," Stolinas said.
Anderson said that a severance would cause significant hardships on the children and the Commonwealth.
"To have to do a trial with voluminous allegations twice would not only negatively affect the alleged victims in this case but would be oppressive and unnecessary upon the legal system," Anderson said.
Leete did not yet decide the severance issue but mentioned the possibility of issuing clarifying jury instructions.
Lindsay requested access to additional reports and interviews - such as from the Lycoming County Detectives and Children and Youth Services.
Anderson said he asked Detective William Weber for his entire investigative file and only received one page.
"I don't want to criticize Detective Weber's investigative techniques but I was kind of surprised," Anderson said of the lack of documents.
Weber conducted the initial investigation into Matthew Zeigler through the Lycoming County District Attorney's Office, also recused.
"To be candid with the Court, my client believes and Mr. Weber references...an extensive file that goes back many years. Like Mr. Anderson, I find it hard to believe that his file contains only one page," Lindsay said.
Anderson said that he's unaware of anything that exists in his possession that hasn't already been turned over.
Leete gave the Commonwealth a 30-day extension to attempt to gather more discovery materials.
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A weeklong trial was tentatively slated for October after Leete consulted the parties about their schedules.
"Mrs. Zeigler is very motivated to have a trial as soon as possible because she's still in a position to regain custody, regain parental rights of her children," Stolinas said.
Leete asked if there might be any plea agreements forthcoming.
"I'm assuming you ladies and gentlemen have nothing to tell me concerning a resolution in this case?" Leete asked.
"Not at this time," Lindsay said.
Related reading: Lycoming County couple charged with child abuse
Correction: A previous version of this article attributed a question to Anderson that was asked by Leete.