WEST CHESTER – A teenage girl who was lured into having oral sex with an elderly man who had befriended her family at their Phoenixville church read letters to her attacker in Chester County Court Thursday describing how she had suffered from the man’s actions.
In addition to significant emotional trauma, she began cutting herself as a way of warding off the troubling thoughts of what he had done to her. But, she said, that behavior has stopped.
“I am not going to hurt myself anymore,” the 16-year-old girl told Donald Richard Schnovel as he sat in Senior Judge Ronald Nagle’s courtroom. “I am not a victim, I am a survivor.”
Schnovel, 80, of Phoenixville was formally sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison, a sentence that he had agreed to in December when he pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the case. He was taken from the courtroom in a wheelchair after having used a walker to enter the courtroom with his wife.
Schnovel, who met the girl when she was much younger, spent years grooming her for sexual exploitation, according to the prosecutor in the case. On Thursday, he apologized for his behavior, but asked Nagle to order him confined not to a state prison but to Norristown State Hospital. Nagle did not.
“I am truly, truly, truly sorry for what happened,” he told the judge, seated in a chair before the bench, accompanied by Thomas A. Pitt III of West Chester, his attorney. “I have prayed nightly about this. It has destroyed me as well. I have prayed for God to deliver me and make me a different person.”
Nagle called the case “especially disturbing,” and said God will be Schnovel’s ultimate judge. But the judge mentioned what punishment might be forthcoming for him for abusing the girl in biblical terms.
“The Bible tells us that a millstone should be tied around your neck and that you be cast into the sea,” he said. “You are to be cast into a prison” where Schnovel will very likely die. “That is a terrible way to end a life, but you are the architect of that end. God had nothing to do with it.”
According to the facts of the case that were laid out by Assistant District Attorney Deborah Ryan when Schnovel entered his guilty plea to charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors, and possession of child pornography, Schnovel had met the girl and her family through the Grace Bible Church in Phoenixville. He ingratiated himself with them from the time she was 9, slowly becoming much like a grandfather to the girl and her younger brother.
According to Ryan, the crimes Schnovel was accused of occurred between May 2011 and September 2011, when she was 14. He knew the family was having trouble, and that the girl had been placed in residential treatment facilities. Ryan said Schnovel used that knowledge to manipulate and groom her, giving her presents and taking her and her brother on ice skating, roller skating, or horseback riding trips, or to the movies.
Then on one occasion when they were alone in his Ford Mustang outside a roller skating rink he offered her $5 if she would perform oral sex on him, which she did. He also took naked pictures of her with his cell phone and molested her. He also had oral sex with the girl in the parking lot of the Phoenixville Hospital and on the way home from a trip to Dorney Park, both during the summer of 2011. He would give her between $5 and $20, which she used to buy candy, Ryan said.
The incidents came to light in November 2011. Cpl. Patrick Mark of the Phoenixville police interviewed Schnovel about the accusations against him on three occasions, and he initially denied having any improper contact with the girl. But he later admitted his conduct, and later told his son in a taped interview that he had sex with the girl.
“This was a particularly disturbing case for the victim and for the Commonwealth,” Ryan told Nagle during the 30-minute proceeding Thursday. Schnovel “became a loved and trusted member of the victim’s family, and he was someone she loved and turned to for counsel. He took advantage of that trust and her naïveté.”
Ryan also reminded Nagle that Schnovel had engaged in the same criminal behavior in the past. In 1972, he was convicted of sexually abusing another girl, from the time she was 5 until she was 16. He was placed on probation at the time. That victim had appeared at his guilty plea hearing in December, but was not in the courtroom Thursday.
Pitts had requested that Schnovel be confined in a state prison with appropriate forensic facilities to treat him. He must undergo sexual offender’s counseling as part of his sentence.
Should Schnovel ever be released from confinement, he will be subject to state Megan’s Law registry requirements. He was ordered never to have any future unsupervised contact with minors, or with the victim and her family.
The victim, who was accompanied in court by her mother, said she still loved Schnovel despite his abuse of her. “But you are a very, very sick man who needs help,” she said, reading from one of two letters she had addressed to him. “You knew what you were doing was wrong, but you never wanted to admit it. “
She said she knew Schnovel had asked God for forgiveness, but doubted it would be forthcoming. “You are not going to heaven,” she said. “You are gong to hell.”