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

Updated: September 11, 2006, 7:02 PM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press