The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and sentence of a Bedford County man who was convicted 19 months ago of sexually abusing three children over a period of years.
Howard Anthony Strait, 31, of Hopewell, was found guilty of child rape, rape by forcible compulsion, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, statutory sexual assault, indecent assault and endangering the welfare of children by a Bedford County jury that deliberated the case for three hours in December 2021.
Bedford County President Judge Travis W. Livengood sentenced Strait to a prison term of 36 to 114 years.
He is incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Houtzdale.
In his appeal filed by Pittsburgh attorney Amy Beth Levenson, the defense argued the sentence was “excessive and patently unreasonable.”
Strait, it asserted, had no prior criminal convictions and he, for sentencing purposes, presented the court with 22 letters attesting to his good character.
The defense also objected to Livengood’s finding that Strait was a sexually violent predator under the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act.
The act defines a sexually violent predator as someone who is likely to engage in predatory sexual offenses in the future due to a “mental abnormality” or “personality disorder.”
In designating Strait as a sexually violent predator under the law, the judge heard testimony from William Allenbaugh, a psychologist from DuBois who specializes in the treatment of individuals who have committed sexual offenses.
The defense objected to Allenbaugh’s testimony because his assessment did not include an interview with Strait but relied heavily on a recommendation and report from Pennsylvania’s Sexual Offender Advisory Board.
In addressing the claim that Strait’s sentence was excessive, the Superior Court panel that included Judges Anne E. Lazarus, Judith F. Olson and Megan King, found in view of the number of victims and “the criminal conduct at issue” the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences was not improper.
It then focused its attention on the designation of Strait as a predator under the law, which will require Strait to register as a sexual offender for the rest of his life.
The law requires the state assessment board to consider the offenses committed: whether multiple victims were involved, the nature of the sexual contact, the ages of the victims, as well as the alleged perpetrators’ prior criminal record, his age and his behavioral characteristics.
Allenbaugh’s procedure in reviewing that case “was not only permissible, it was required,” according to the Superior Court opinion.
And by contesting Livengood’s acceptance of Allenbaugh’s recommendation, the appeals court panel stated the defense was asking it to reweigh the evidence, “which we cannot do.”
It then upheld Livengood’s finding that Strait met the criteria to be classified as a Sexually Violent Predator.
Livengood in his opinion pointed out the Strait prosecution involved three victims between the ages of 9 and 13.
He stated that Strait used drugs “to entice … or make it easier to victimize the victims that were involved here.”
The judge continued, “It (the abuse) did not occur just once. It occurred over a range of time. … given the testimony over at least a couple of years.”
Strait’s pedophilia, he found, “does make him likely to engage in predator sexually violent offenses,” Livengood concluded as he found Strait met the legal definition as a sexually violent predator.
The Strait case was tried by Bedford County’s former District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts.
The case was investigated by the state police in Bedford who received complaints from children in Bedford, Huntingdon and Fulton counties.
In his testimony, Allenbaugh noted there was a fourth victim, but Livengood clarified that he sentenced Strait based only on the testimony from the three victims who testified during the trial.