By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — A city man will likely be freed Tuesday on nominal bail because he has not been brought to trial, as mandated by state law, in the 180 days since his arrest on rape and other charges, a scenario the district attorney attributes in part to a large caseload and smaller staff.
Benjamin Scheller, of Sunbury, was arrested March 13 after police said he brandished a handgun, burst into his ex-girlfriend’s house, found her at home, tied her up, held a gun to her head and sexually assaulted her.
Scheller has been held since the day of his arrest. In that time, several developments have unfolded.
The arresting officer, former Point Township patrolman Wade Lytle, admitted to becoming romantically involved with the alleged victim and has since been fired.
The alleged victim also is the cousin of Point Township Police Chief Josh VanKirk.
Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini said his office will seek special conditions if President Judge Robert Sacavage grants Scheller’s release.
In an email, Rosini wrote: “The defendant’s attorney has filed a motion to have him released on nominal bail. All defendants are entitled to be released on nominal bail after 180 days of incarceration; however, the judge can impose conditions on any bail it grants to protect the victim and the public and to assure that the defendant will appear at trial.”
If the court grants Scheller’s release, the assistant district attorney will request conditions regarding his housing location and bail supervision, Rosini wrote.
“Scheller will need to meet any conditions imposed by the court before he can be released from the county prison,” Rosini wrote. “We have had defendants in the past who have not been released on nominal bail because they were unable to meet the conditions imposed by the court. If he meets the court’s conditions, he will be released on bail.”
Scheller’s attorney, Michael Rudinski, of Williamsport, filed the motion and said he was withholding comment until trial.
At one point during the alleged sexual assault, Scheller retreated to a bedroom announcing that he would kill himself, police said. While in the room alone, he fired the gun, but shot through the ceiling instead of at himself, court documents said.
The incident happened in November 2011, but the woman did not notify police until March, when authorities said Scheller violated a protection-from-abuse order she obtained after the alleged sexual assault.
Lytle maintains he was not involved with the victim during the investigation, but the two became close afterward.
Lytle spoke to the Point Township supervisors and told them he went to the district attorney’s office and to VanKirk and explained the situation because he wanted it to be clear he did nothing wrong.
He was fired several days later.
Scheller is scheduled to appear before Sacavage at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Rudinski filed a motion asking the court to release Scheller on nominal bail because he has been imprisoned for more than 180 days. Rudinski cites Pennsylvania Rule Criminal Procedure 600 that states: “No defendant shall be held in pre-trial incarceration on a given case for a period exceeding 180 days. Any defendant held in excess of 180 days is entitled upon petition to immediate release on nominal bail.”
Rosini said Scheller requested a bail reduction before.
“Mr. Scheller also filed a request for bail modification and had a hearing before the court in July,” Rosini wrote in his email. “His request for bail reduction was denied at that time, I believe due to the victim’s concerns regarding the defendant and the location at which he wanted to stay being found not to be appropriate.
“Pretrial conferences on the case were scheduled before the county court in June, August and September, and the case was scheduled for trial in October. The defendant obtained new counsel in September, and his original attorney withdrew from the case at that time. Trial was not held in October as another older case was ahead of it, which was scheduled for a jury trial. Unfortunately, that defendant did not appear for jury selection. Scheller is now scheduled for trial in January.”
An overload of cases is something the district attorney’s office is dealing with, Rosini said.
“We have limited trial days, and we have been cut an ADA, so there are a limited number of cases we can schedule,” he wrote. “We schedule the cases based on how long they are pending and when they are prepared for trial.
“At this point, due to the cuts in staff and the limited court time, we have a backlog of about 800 cases, and we will have around 1,400 new cases this year and only about 50 actual days on which to schedule cases for jury trials. I note that after the cut in my staff, the court re-arranged its schedule and cut back on hearing dates so that we would be able to have an ADA representation at the four magisterial district judges’ preliminary hearings and in the three county courtrooms. This has slowed down the process and made it more difficult to resolve cases quickly.”
Scheller faces charges of rape, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, terroristic threats, unlawful resistant, two counts of simple assault and false imprisonment. He was sent to the Northumberland County Prison in March on $250,000 cash bail.