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Nude gardener guilty of indecent exposure, jury rules

Thursday, December 21, 2000

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- A Centre County jury pondered for an hour yesterday and concluded that, when 62-year-old Charles Stitzer lounged naked in his back yard on summer evenings, he was guilty of indecent exposure.

Conviction of the misdemeanor likely won't get the retiree more than probation at sentencing next month.

"My hope is that the judge gives him two years of probation and tells him to keep his pants on," Assistant District Attorney Lance Marshall said after the verdict.

"He's eccentric but harmless," said Stitzer's attorney, Philip Degnan of Philadelphia. "Charlie really didn't think that anything he was doing was wrong."

What Stitzer was doing June 22, he says, was a touch of gardening in his back yard at Pleasant Gap, a wisp of a town eight miles northeast of State College. He lived there, caring for an 82-year-old woman, his house mate for two decades.

But Stitzer's gardening outfit that night, police say, was a pair of shoes and a watch.

"If anybody had ever said anything, I certainly wouldn't have done it," Stitzer testified in his own defense. "But if somebody sees me, who's going to care? They never complained before."

Neighbors who say they watched from their own yard, about 200 feet away, beg to differ. While Stitzer insisted that it was too dark and he was too far away for anybody to get an eyeful, 20-year neighbor Pam Watkins testified that Stitzer left little to the imagination and that she was appalled.

"Were you offended?" Marshall asked Watkins' 15-year-old daughter, Heather Watkins.

"Yes," the girl answered.

"Alarmed?" he asked.

"Yes," she said.

"It's a serious case. It isn't cute, it isn't funny," Marshall told jurors in opening the one-day trial.

Stitzer told jurors that he's been sitting in his back yard, sans apparel, for years. And sometimes, when he worked on cars or mowed the lawn in daylight, he said, he was clad only in a thong -- scant clothing but enough to keep him from running afoul of the law.

"You could stand about 10 more degrees of heat in it," he said.

To the last, Stitzer insisted that he had done nothing wrong, sticking to his point so stubbornly that he fired two attorneys who he thought were mishandling his case.

Yesterday, the trial couldn't begin until Common Pleas Judge Charles Brown decided that Stitzer couldn't fire Degnan, too. But on the way to that decision, Stitzer frayed Brown badly enough that the judge -- normally reserved -- told Stitzer to dampen his "wise-ass attitude."

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