Trial ordered for ex-coach accused of improper touching

Town Justice Herbert Needleman directed attorneys today to plan for a trial of former volunteer Cobl
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Town Justice Herbert Needleman directed attorneys today to plan for a trial of former volunteer Cobleskill-Richmondville High School basketball coach Gregory Morra, who is accused of improperly touching two girls more than a year ago.

Needleman also partially rejected efforts to dismiss the misdemeanor charges against Morra, a Loudonville dentist. While letting stand two charges of endangering the welfare of a child and one charge of third-degree sexual abuse, Needleman granted Morra’s attorney, George E. LaMarche III, the chance to resubmit a motion requesting dismissal of the sexual abuse charge.

Needleman agreed to dismiss a charge of forcible touching against Morra earlier this week, the judge said today.

Morra sat in court during the mostly procedural discussions, but made no public comments. He did not respond to a reporter’s request for comment, but LaMarche said Morra continues to deny that he did anything wrong.

“He maintains his innocence and expects to be vindicated,” said LaMarche, a member of the E. Stewart Jones law firm in Troy.

LaMarche requested two separate jury trials.

That was opposed by Schoharie County District Attorney James Sacket.

Needleman set March 21 to receive the defense motions, followed by March 28 for the district attorney’s response, and April 11 for the court’s response or ruling. No court appearances are expected for those procedural actions.

In the meantime, Needleman directed the attorneys to coordinate on a date for the trial or trials to begin.

Needleman set a tentative trial date for May 5 and May 6, but LaMarche said his firm is involved in unrelated trials that might require rescheduling.

Because of the expected room needed for a jury trial, Needleman said he had received permission to use the Richmondville Volunteer Emergency Squad building, instead of his small courtroom.

“It’s absolutely not the typical justice court procedure,” Needleman said.

LaMarche requested that the trial be held in the Schoharie County Courthouse in Schoharie, because of its larger space, central location and facilities for jurors and attorneys.

Needleman said he was willing to look into the possibility, but Sacket noted that scheduling use of the busy county court could pose logistical problems.

Sacket requested the trial remain in Richmondville, the jurisdiction where the alleged incidents, at the high school near Warnerville, took place.

Needleman made no decision on the trial location, pending further information from attorneys and court officials.

The case has been delayed for months by various procedural court actions and legal motions since Morra was initially charged by state police in January 2007 with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child under age 17.

In August, Sacket filed the additional sexual abuse and forcible touching charges related to one of the two alleged victims.

That followed Morra’s rejection of a prosecution offer to reduce one of the endangering charges to second-degree harassment, if Morra would plead guilty to that, the other endangering charge and other conditions.

Jones had also unsuccessfully sought to have a county grand jury hear the charges. That could have moved the case to Schoharie County Court.

The January charges against Morra also prompted a county grand jury investigation last winter concerning the handling of the initial complaints by Cobleskill-Richmondville school administrators and sports officials in fall 2006.

Morra resigned the unpaid part-time coaching post after the initial allegations, but state police contended the school did not report the incidents until after one of the victims contacted troopers.

School officials have said they believed the allegations were handled properly.

No charges against any school officials or staff were brought by the grand jury, but a report released last summer listed a series of recommendations to improve school response to such allegations.

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