But on to more immediate concerns -- namely, the criminal court case. Cinefra waived his right to a preliminary hearing, which means the case is automatically moved up to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, where the case will most likely be resolved via plea, or, if Cinefra is feeling lucky (or suicidal, perhaps, in chancing what may be a decades-long sentence), a trial.
So what does his attorney, Patrick Thomassey, say to the court of public opinion?
“We have a lot of things to sort out down the road,” Thomassey said. “There is no doubt the young lady instigated the relationship.”
Patrick Thomassey is a very experienced and very smart lawyer. What's the thinking behind his saying something which seems, at first blush, is rather stupid?
(a) Pretty much affirms that there was a relationship between Mr. Cinefra and the minor female student;
(b) Such a statement can be used by the prosecutor to fit the prosecution's story that Cinefra is a manipulative sexual predator and is trying to blame the victim even though he is the one who is the criminal;
(c) It offends ordinary sensibilities (see the comments section to this article) and does not seem to absolve Mr. Cinefra at all, but rather to further incriminate Mr. Cinefra.
So, how could such a savvy lawyer say something so stupid?
I do not pretend to have inside information. Rather, through deduction and inference, just from publicly available information, I think that this statement has a lot of meaning behind it:
1. It concedes to the overwhelming evidence against Cinefra that he is definitely not going to win the Teacher of the Year award, to say the least. There is no use in denying the obvious; a jury is not going to buy a story that nothing happened when there are well-preserved records of extensive sexting, testimony from two witnesses, and worst of all, the defendant's own recorded confession. So since there is nothing to lose by admitting that Cinefra had a "relationship" with the alleged victim in this case, we may well eliminate the possibility that Thomassey is stupid. But if it is not an act of stupidity, what can it be?
2. It might be a declaration that the defense is able and eager to smear the alleged victim in this case, now 19 years old, who by her own admission, "...made out ... [l]ike all throughout tenth grade pretty much" with her teacher, Cinefra. This may be a strategic move in trying to let the victim know, indirectly through the media, that she will be thoroughly cross-examined by a very well-prepared and experienced defense.
Of course, it is quite illegal for the defense to go anywhere near trying to get a witness to not testify. That's why District Attorney Zappala immediately shot back that "such comments could possibly be seen as intimidation, something he said his office takes very seriously." Since calling the victim and telling her this directly is out of the question (and of course Thomassey, who is a very smart and ethical attorney, will certainly not go anywhere near this line of thought, which is purely my own personal conjecture) what better way to do it then to obliquely intimate this in the media, where the psychological impact may be greater in that, from the alleged victim's perspective, the public and the media is now primed by the defense to eagerly await the spectacle of her being cross-examined.
The scandalous nature of such a potential purpose in Thomassey's statement might belie the equal possibility that this may also not be the purpose after all. The prosecutor has overwhelming evidence against Cinefra, and a conviction seems likely even without the victim's testimony. Cinefra himself has already admitted on record to having received oral sex from the minor, as well as other quite lurid and quite criminal conduct. Thomassey therefore might not be achieving all that much, if witness intimidation is his purpose, in exposing himself to ridicule and potential criminal liability.
But, if it may not be to intimidate the witness, what other purpose might Thomassey's seemingly stupid statement serve?
3. A potential defense.
A defense, you say, to having engaged in extensive lewd and criminal conduct with a minor, and a student under your care?
Yes, the defense of duress. Very simply stated, the defense of duress is being coerced to doing something that would otherwise be criminal. Of course, in Pennsylvania, (roughly stated) you cannot claim duress if you put yourself in the coercive situation to begin with.
What might a defense of duress look like in Cinfera's case?
It is definitely not going to be that the alleged victim was so irresistibly attractive, and when she batted her eyes at her poor dolt of a teacher, "a person of reasonable firmness in Cinefra's situation would have been unable to resist". Shame on you, dear reader.
In the unlikely event* that a trial does take place and a defense of duress is presented, it may be one where Cinefra claims that the alleged victim blackmailed him into the trap that he repeatedly walked into (and, as the prosecutor will undoubtedly retort, apparently enjoyed very much for many months). Under this defense, some of the lesser charges relating to buying the alleged minor victim alcohol and sexting might have to be owned up to, but that might only get Cinefra a few months in the county jail, all in an attempt to try to defeat the most serious charges. What might it sound like, then? I speculate that it might sound something like this:
"In the beginning, I was just being friendly to [victim]. I did buy her alcohol and did some sexting, because she is, as you can see, quite attractive and quite assertive. However, I realized that I was stupid, I had crossed the line, and begged her that I wanted to end the relationship -- oh, actually, there was never a relationship -- the police were putting words in my mouth; I didn't say we had a relationship.
"Anyway, [victim] refused, and told me that if we did not continue our relationship, she would immediately call the police and say I raped her. So every time she came into my classroom and locked the door, and I tried to refuse, she would tell me that she will scream that I'm raping her, and that would have gotten me into a lot of trouble. She jumped on top of me and forced me to make out with her. Also, when she performed oral sex in my car, she said the same thing as well. I therefore had no choice but to comply. If a girl locked herself in a room with a man and said that unless he kisses her, she will scream 'rape', what man would choose not to kiss her?"
But what of Cinefra's own admission that he committed multiple sex-related felonies -- and his failure (as far as we, the public know, at this point) to complain that he was being blackmailed? This is most certainly a problem. The defense might well try to get his confession suppressed. If Cinefra's recorded confession is tossed out, then the prosecution's case becomes a lot weaker.
Lest I get ahead of myself, however, I must point out that even if this defense is presented, it is still a pretty weak defense, because Cinefra has a pretty weak hand against the prosecution's royal flush (if the confession stays in as evidence). Cinefra is not going to win any sympathy points, and his believably is going to suffer automatically for even trying to present a defense, because it will seem like an excuse. If Cinefra requests a jury trial, I think that a jury composed of ordinary people will be sorely tempted to simply find him guilty as charged, of being a scumbag if nothing else, rather than even entertain the performance of the mental gymnastics that a defense of duress will demand.
However, even if Cinefra ultimately is looking to plead out anyway and would never chance a trial, he will have just gained significant leverage in both eliminating a key piece of evidence against him, and presenting a possibly plausible defense to the prosecution to try to undermine the prosecution's confidence in their case.
Regardless, I would think that Thomassey knows what he is doing, and definitely do not think he had merely blurted out without thought the deliberated words of "...the young lady instigated the relationship".
*Based on my own knowledge and experience, my rough guesstimate for a favorable plea deal in this case is something like 11.5 months in the county jail on the low end and maybe a couple of years in state prison, along with several years of probation (and, most likely, Megan's Law registration). Imprisonment is likely unavoidable given the publicly scandalous nature of this case. A conviction at trial, I would think, will result in at least a decade, if not more, of time in state prison. Of course, nobody can divine what may actually happen at sentencing, so this is just conjecture based on knowledge of past cases.