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Indecent exposure conviction overturned

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. – After four lawyers and $14,000 in legal bills, a 63-year-old Pleasant Gap man who doesn’t like it hot has been cleared on an indecent exposure conviction.

A state appeals court last week overturned the indecent exposure conviction of Charles Stitzer, who was wearing only shoes and a watch while gardening in his back yard nearly two years ago when he was arrested after a neighbor complained to police.

Is he happy?

“You’re damn right, you better believe it the strain I’ve been under,” Stitzer said Monday. “It’s been a hell of a load on my mind. It’s been a big financial drain.”

The decision was filed last week by a three-judge Superior Court panel, which directed Centre County Court to acquit Stitzer, who lives at 217 E. College Ave. in Pleasant Gap.

Stitzer was observed nude in his back yard by a neighbor, Pam Watkins, from a distance of 60 to 65 yards at sunset on June 22, 2000. Watkins could not be reached for comment Monday.

Stitzer’s case at first was dismissed at a preliminary hearing by District Justice Brad P. Lunsford, but he was rearrested and convicted at a December 2000 jury trial presided over by Centre County President Judge Charles C. Brown Jr.

After Stitzer was convicted, Brown sentenced him in January 2001 to two years probation.

The appeals court said backyard nudity observed from such a distance at sunset did not satisfy an element of the law that requires others to be present for indecent exposure to occur.

“We vacate the conviction and remand for the trial court to enter a judgment of acquittal,” the appeals court ruled last week.

State College lawyer Andrew Shubin, who represented Stitzer in the appeal, said the appellate court decision upheld a broad civil liberty, especially significant since the issue of civil liberties has come under new scrutiny since Sept. 11.

“The principle that’s important here is that a person has a right to do on his property things that he may not have a right to do in public,” Shubin said. “If you don’t like what you see, you avert your eyes.

“If he had done that at a baseball game, it would have been different,” Shubin said.

Assistant District Attorney Lance Marshall, who prosecuted Stitzer, said Monday that he does not plan to appeal the appellate court judgment.

Stitzer, a retired mechanical draftsman, said he likes to keep cool on hot summer evenings, sometimes wears a thong and often sat out nude on his side porch in the dark, though neighbors’ floodlights have lately lit up the night.

“Why sit out there with those hot shorts on?” Stitzer said. “Why shouldn’t I sit out there without anything on?”