LOCKPORT – Five years ago, Lewis E. Huff Jr., of Niagara Falls, underwent a heart transplant.
Thursday, Huff, who had never been in trouble with the law before, pleaded guilty to five felonies for molesting five children in 2012 and 2013.
His lawyer, prominent Niagara Falls defense attorney James J. Faso Jr., said he thinks there’s a connection.
Faso said it’s possible the anti-rejection drugs Huff had to take after the transplant might have changed his personality.
“I’ve spoken to a couple of doctors and a pharmacist, and they say this is a viable option,” Faso said in an interview. “I’m going to explore that. Here’s a guy with no criminal history, and now this.”
Faso said he used that angle in closed-door talks with Niagara County prosecutors and State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. to obtain a plea deal for his client that could see him avoid prison time.
Thursday, Kloch told Huff that he is considering 10 years of probation as a sentence, but if he imposes a prison term, it will be no more than four years, with three to 10 years of post-release supervision.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth R. Donatello said the law caps the sentence at 20 years for the charges to which Huff pleaded guilty.
Huff, 63, of 38th Street, also was told that if Kloch finds incarceration appropriate, Huff can back out of the plea deal. However, that would leave him open to indictment and that 20-year maximum sentence if convicted.
“I’ll tell you frankly, sir, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Kloch told Huff as he scheduled sentencing for March 27.
Medical websites that address the aftermath of heart transplants agree that there are side effects to the heavy doses of anti-rejection drugs that patients must take for the rest of their lives. In particular, steroids that are part of the menu of drugs are associated with mood swings.
Faso said he doesn’t know where Huff’s donor heart came from. But he said he used the heart transplant and Huff’s lack of a criminal record in the plea bargaining.
“And I don’t think (the victims’ parents) want to go through a trial,” the defense attorney added.
Donatello said that was true, and Kloch said from the bench that he was glad to avoid “a trial, which would be equally catastrophic to the families.”
The victims were children of both genders, whose ages when the abuse started ranged from 5 to 9 years old.
Donatello said, “There are reports of some of the abuse occurring in public.” She said that meant Huff reportedly reached for the private parts of the children or had them place their hands on his private parts.
Other reported abuse occurred in homes at times when other adults were present, the prosecutor said.
“The abuse of a child can often happen surreptitiously, even in a crowd,” Donatello told the judge.
Huff remains free on $15,000 bail to await sentencing. Donatello asked Kloch to bar Huff from any contact with anyone under 18 as a condition of bail.
When Faso objected that would be impractical, the judge ordered Huff to stay home except when going to medical appointments.
“I don’t need another victim,” Kloch said.
Faso said, “I respectfully disagree with the people’s position and the court’s ruling. However, we’ll abide by it.”
Huff pleaded guilty to five Class E felonies: three counts of attempted second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of attempted first-degree sexual abuse.
The courses of sexual conduct began in May 2012 for two of the children and continued until August 2013. A third child was molested between December 2012 and August 2013.
Other incidents, apparently one-time gropings, occurred in August 2013 and an unspecified date last summer, according to charges read from the bench by Kloch.