Two current and one former Adams County Children and Youth Services (ACCYS) employees, each charged with two counts of child endangerment, waived their rights to a preliminary hearing today in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas.
Steven Murphy, 63, of Dillsburg, and Sherri DePasqua, 46, of Dillsburg, told the Honorable Judge Mark D. Beauchat that they had consulted with their attorneys and voluntarily decided to waive the preliminary hearing. The third defendant in the case, Clarissa Kiesling, 44, of Hanover, appeared and waived her right to a preliminary hearing earlier in the day.
The arraignment date for the three defendants is Oct. 16, 2023.
Defense counsel Jerry Russo, representing Depasqua, said he looks forward to” vigorously defending the accusation that she knowingly endangered the welfare of these children,” adding that there is another side to the story. He said that Depasqua, who has worked with children and youth services for 20 years, was a foster child until the age of six. She and her husband have also been foster parents. Russo said none of the three defendants believe anything they did was wrong. He said his client would plead “not guilty” at her arraignment.
Corey Leslie, counsel for Murphy, said the purpose of the hearing was for Judge Beauchat to determine if enough evidence existed to support criminal charges. He and his client saw more value in reserving cross-examination until they had the opportunity to receive the discovery, including the grand jury testimony.
Chris Ferro, the attorney representing Clarrisa Kiessling, was unavailable for comment.
Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnet said he was not surprised the preliminary hearing was waived. He said that other than hearing people testify, no new evidence would have been presented at the hearing.
According to a statewide grand jury indictment, while ACCYS was supervising a one-year-old girl and her three-year-old sister, the defendants knowingly endangered the welfare of the children by violating a duty of care, protection, or support, including ignoring concerns expressed by service providers and foster patients. At that time, DePasqua served as assistant administrator of ACCYS, Kiessling was a supervisor, and Murphy was a case manager. The indictment said the defendants dismissed concerns out-of-hand and failed to conduct follow-up investigations before returning the children to their mother. “As a result of that homicide investigation and prosecution, it became apparent that several serious failures occurred in the supervision and reunification process of this case. The murder was very likely avoidable if Adams County Children and Youth Services had not violated the duty of care,” said Sinnett.
ACCYS obtained emergency custody of both children in February 2019 after the younger child was born with the presence of cocaine, opiates, and THC in her system. The children were placed with foster parents before being returned to their natural parents after a court order on Feb. 27, 2020. The grand jury claimed the three ACCYS employees did not advise the supervising court at that hearing of multiple concerns about the children’s mother’s inability to parent safely.
According to the grand jury statement, a protective services referral was made to ACCYS in late May 2020, which stated the mother had been drinking and passed out while at a party with her children. One week later, the youngest daughter received injuries that her mother reported were obtained from a fall. She later admitted to shaking the child. The child died from her injuries two days later.
DePasqua and Kiessling have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings. Murphy resigned from CYS in July.
At the Adams County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Chairman Randy Phiel said, “The safety and welfare of our children has been, remains, and will always be paramount.” He declined to give further comment.
Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.