ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ) — A former Altoona assistant fire chief who was charged with sexually assaulting an underage girl was acquitted by a jury.
Mathew Detrich, 52, was found not guilty Thursday afternoon, Dec. 8, of all the charges in connection to the case. Detrich took the stand in his defense during the four-day trial and when the case was given to the jury to decide Thursday morning, it took about 30 minutes deliberate.
“Now, we’d say it’s up to the public,” Lisle Weaver, defense team member with Pittsburgh law firm Farrell, Weaver and Okun said. “Talk to people who were in that trial and don’t jump to conclusions because if everybody heard the evidence that came out, everybody would be convinced that not only is Mat Detrich not guilty, but he’s innocent. That was proven throughout the course of this trial.”
“These cases are very difficult for the victims who have the courage to come forward. We respect the decisions made by the jury, but we will fight for Blair County victims to get justice even when the cases are difficult,” Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks said after the verdict.
Detrich was charged in July 2021 after being accused of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old from 2014 to early 2016.
Mat Detrich’s Pittsburgh-based defense team was made up of Thomas Farrell and Lisle Weaver of Farrell, Weaver and Okun, along with Mike Zagari of Zagari & Associates.
“We put it all on the table. All or nothing. We did not want the jury to compromise,” Zagari said. “We said, is all or nothing. We asked them, if you have a reasonable doubt about anything that you’ve heard, find him not guilty. But if you’re convinced the Commonwealth has met their burden, then find him guilty of everything. There were 13 charges. All or nothing. All or nothing.”
Zagari said jurors want to know how cases can go this far and he said he thinks a story snowballed and it got to a point police and prosecutors were “handcuffed to a lie.”
These cases are never easy, the attorneys admitted.
“It’s a sex case and we had to deal with the intimate parts of peoples’ lives and there’s a lot of emotion that comes from witnesses and that makes it very difficult. We’re talking about things people don’t talk about in their everyday lives private matters. And for Mr. Detrich. he put it all out there, he had nothing to hide and it ultimately resulted in him being found not guilty.”
Detrich’s defense team gave this update following the acquittal.
“He’s good. He’s relieved. What a weight on his shoulders to have lifted off, Zagari said. “Let’s face it, in these types of cases, there is a natural inclination to believe these horrendous accusations are true. Just to be on the safe side.”
The attorneys said that it is fortunate the system works and that the jurors didn’t base their judgment based only on allegations but on the evidence.
“They didn’t waste their time, they listened to the evidence — they got it they knew that this was a bunch of lies and they found him not guilty probably faster than any other trial I’ve been a part of,” Zagari said.