Wilson High hazing charges reduced to 'an appropriate misdemeanor'

Updated: August 29, 2008, 7:35 PM ET
By Elizabeth Merrill | ESPN.com

The boys accused in the Wilson High School hazing case will not face felony charges.

Niagara County district attorney Michael Violante said in a statement Friday that charges against 18-year-old Geoffrey Seefeldt and two 16-year-olds would be reduced to "an appropriate misdemeanor charge and add misdemeanor and violation charges of hazing."

The accused boys, all members of Wilson's varsity baseball team, initially were charged with third-degree aggravated sexual abuse, a felony, and misdemeanor child endangerment. On April 17, three boys on Wilson's junior-varsity baseball team were allegedly sexually abused during a bus ride back from a game in Niagara Falls.

Kevin Shelby, the lawyer for one of the accused 16-year-olds, said the district attorney will likely charge the boys with forcible touching, a misdemeanor.

Mothers of two of the alleged victims say their sons were beaten and had objects forced into their rectums. The alleged sexual assault took place while the boys still had their uniform pants on.

The mother of one of the alleged victims, reached at her home on Friday afternoon, declined to comment. Terry Connors, the lawyer for the families of two of the alleged victims, said, "The only comment I will make is this doesn't affect my prosecution of the civil case. My focus is on the civil case against the Wilson school district."

A Town Torn Apart

Varsity baseball players as old as 18, riding on the same bus with junior varsity players as young as 13 -- what happened on that bus in April in upstate New York changed the lives of many of the players, coaches and parents in their small community of Wilson. Story

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"This provides a set of charges that more accurately reflects the facts as we now believe them," Violante said in the statement, "and will facilitate our prosecution of these charges."

Shelby said his client will plead not guilty when he appears in court on Sept. 9. Andrew Vona, who represents the other 16-year-old, said his client will also plead not guilty. School starts in Wilson next week, and lawyers from both sides had expressed hope that the case would be resolved before then. Shelby said his client will start the year in home schooling.

"I still want my client to go back to Wilson," he said. "He should go back there.

"It's great news for the client. It's what I said all along … There just was not a felony there."

Thomas Baia and William Atlas, the two Wilson coaches charged with child endangerment, are due back in court next month.