Representational image
Representational image

Ebensburg: A former Pennsylvania paediatrician has been sentenced to at least 79 years in prison for the sexual assault of 31 children, most of them patients, as his now-adult victims blasted not only their abuser but the system that let him get away with it for so long.  Dr Johnnie Barto of Johnstown was Monday sentenced on dozens of criminal counts, including aggravated indecent assault and child endangerment. Prosecutors said he spent decades abusing children in the exam room at his paediatric practice in western Pennsylvania and at local hospitals, opting to become a paediatrician, so he’d have a ready supply of victims.

He typically abused prepubescent girls. One was an infant. “I grieve for the little girl I should have been, for the childhood I should’ve had. … I grieve for all the children you hurt,” a victim, who was sexually abused at age 13, said at Barto’s sentencing.  A total of 19 people gave victim impact statements Monday, both in person and through a prosecutor, describing their pain and hurt. Barto’s wife, Linda Barto, was among them.

“He has been lying to me about everything for all of the 52 years I have known him. … He spent his whole sinister life lying and sneaking around, so he could carry on his abuse uninterrupted,” she said. She said her heart was heavy for the victims.
Authorities had a chance to stop Barto in 2000, when he appeared before the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine on administrative charges that he molested two young girls in the 1990s. But regulators threw out the case and allowed him to keep practicing medicine, saying the allegations were “incongruous to his reputation.”

Barto was a beloved paediatrician in Johnstown — and an elected school board member — with hundreds of supporters who flatly disbelieved he was a paedophile. Such was the community’s support that ribbons were distributed and worn at a high school football game as he fought the allegations in the 1990s.  One of the sexual assault victims, who felt obligated to wear the ribbon as a member of the color guard, said it “burned a hole in my chest that entire night.” After the medical board cleared him, Barto felt “invincible,” he later told authorities. And he continued molesting.

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