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T-ball coach to stand trial for $25 offer to bean player

9/11/2006

PITTSBURGH -- A T-ball coach accused of offering an
8-year-old boy $25 to bean a disabled teammate is unlikely to
receive a fair trial because of intense media coverage, the man's
lawyer said.

Mark R. Downs Jr., 29, of Dunbar, was scheduled to go on trial
Tuesday in Fayette County on a string of charges, including
solicitation, corruption of minors and reckless endangerment. He
refused a plea agreement in December.

The charges against Downs drew the attention of media outlets
around the world. Many columnists expressed disgust at what they
considered adult corruption of a child's sport.

"We feel he's been persecuted by the media," defense attorney
Thomas Shaffer said. "[The case] was on from the nightly news in
Japan to every syndicated network broadcast across the country."

Prosecutors have argued that Downs did not want Harry Bowers
Jr., then 9, to play in a June 2005 T-ball playoff game because the
boy wasn't as good as his teammates. Bowers has autism and mild
mental retardation.

Keith Reese, 8 at the time, testified at a preliminary hearing
that he hit Bowers with baseballs first in the groin and later in
the ear. Reese said he did it because Downs offered him $25 to make
sure Bowers wouldn't be able to play.

League rules require each player to play at least three innings.

Prosecutors did not return several phone calls from The
Associated Press seeking comment on the start of the trial.

Shaffer said Downs had joked at another game about paying
players to hit an umpire with a ball. His words were later taken
out of context and used against him by Reese, Shaffer said.

Bowers was hit because he misplayed balls while warming up with
Reese, Shaffer said.

"[Bowers] was terrible. ... It's not like he got
blinded-sided," Shaffer said. "He put his glove up, he missed it
and it went off his glove and hit him."

The Falcons, the team Downs coached, are part of the R.W. Clark
Youth Baseball League. Bowers was hurt before a game in North Union
Township, about 40 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

League officials have said they investigated the matter and
could not confirm whether Downs had done anything wrong. But they
said he wouldn't be allowed to coach again if he were convicted of
criminal charges.

"He didn't ask to return, which was a good thing," said Eric
Forsythe, president of the league. "I'm just curious to see what
comes out in trial."