Jonathan Bell, an art teacher and water polo and swim team coach for Governor Mifflin High School in Berks County, Pennsylvania, will appear in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas on January 31 for the Court to hear pretrial motions involving witness testimony and case consolidation according to the Berks County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Bell is charged with multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent exposure, and statutory sexual assault in three separate criminal cases involving one 15-year old art student and two 17-year old swimmers. These charges cover a period between December 2010 and June 2012.
According to the prosecutor in the three existing cases, Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Criminal Prosecution Section, these cases could go to trial in March.
A source in the Berk’s County District Attorney’s Investigator’s Office informed us that several additional women now have come forward alleging that Mr. Bell also sexually assaulted them in 2010 and 2011 while he was either their teacher or swim coach in high school. According to this source, these allegations are similar to those of the three women in the pending cases. These accusations are being investigated to determine whether additional charges will be brought against Mr. Bell.
In many of these sexual assault cases involving swimmers and coaches, the actions resulting in the arrests have occurred some time before the reporting of the purported crime. With the passage of time, evidence of events will dissipate, disappear, or diminish, leaving only the statements of both the victim and the accused as evidence to be used to either convict or exonerate in the case. In some cases, the accusations of a victim may not be sufficiently verifiable to bring charges against the accused. In these situations, the case could become one of “she said, he said,” which might leave the victim in a more vulnerable place than before the crime was reported to the police.
The police and prosecutors sometime decide that the lack of evidence apart from a victim’s testimony prevents the accused from being charged and brought to trial. With the recent alleged sexual assault victims coming forward against Mr. Bell, the Berks County District Attorney investigators will pursue verification of their claims before filing additional charges against Mr. Bell.
Meanwhile, the Mr. Dye will continue the prosecution of Mr. Bell of the three ongoing cases at the pretrial hearing. The usual nature of pretrial hearings in criminal cases involves the court deciding questions about admissibility of physical evidence or the use of witness testimony or the consolidation of cases or the use of expert testimony, which are raised through motions filed with the court by the prosecutor and the defense attorney. It is not the usual practice to have testimony by potential witnesses or alleged victims at these pretrial motion hearings. These hearings occur before a jury is selected, and they generally are open to the public and to any party of interest in the case. The accused may or may not attend these pretrial hearings depending on the advice of counsel.
In Pennsylvania, the Attorney General’s Office, through its Victim Witness Coordinator, notifies alleged victims in criminal cases about the status of the case in which they are involved. These status letters make the victims aware of upcoming hearings that they may choose to attend. These notice letters do not convey any special status on the victims or require attendance or give them the opportunity to speak at any hearing referenced in the letters. The letters are sent as a courtesy to ensure the victims have notice about the activity in any case in which they are involved.
We reached out to Mr. Bell’s attorney, Allan Sodomsky, for a statement concerning the status of the existing cases and the potential for others. Given that these criminal cases are ongoing, however, Mr. Sodomsky is unable to give a statement at this time.