Two Carnegie Mellon students who marched nude reach deal to have charges dropped

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A Carnegie Mellon University student who dressed as a naked pope and another who portrayed a naked astronaut during an on-campus art parade in April will have their indecent-exposure charges withdrawn so long as they each complete 80 hours of community service.

The agreement, struck by CMU, the district attorney's office and the students, was "a great result" for Katherine B. O'Connor, 19, and Robb S. Godshaw, 22, who had been scheduled for preliminary hearings Monday morning, said attorney Jon Pushinsky, who represented Ms. O'Connor on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union.

If the case had gone to trial, and the students had been convicted on the second-degree misdemeanor charges, they may have been forced to register as sex offenders in certain states, Mr. Pushinsky said. Instead, they have 120 days to complete the community service of their choice.

Charges withdrawn in CMU 'pope girl' nude protest

Charges were withdrawn in the case of the CMU students who were nude in what was described as an art parade. (Video by Nate Guidry; 6/09/2013)

"I'm pleased that they are not going to face the risk of having a conviction at their young age for doing something that they believed was going to be permitted by the program that was operated by CMU," he said.

Emily McNally, the attorney representing Mr. Godshaw, called the community service agreement a "fair" outcome.

Mr. Godshaw and Ms. O'Connor, who was accompanied by her mother, declined to comment. But both said they would be able to speak more freely once their service requirement was completed.

Their journey from art students to defendants began April 18, when the students performed separately at a parade on CMU's campus known as the "Annual Anti-Gravity Downhill Derby," which features performances from students in CMU's College of Fine Arts.

In the parade, Mr. Godshaw was dressed as an astronaut and was walking on a giant wheel textured like the moon before he disrobed, according to a criminal complaint.

The ACLU, in a statement released Monday, said Ms. O'Connor's concept -- to call attention to the Roman Catholic Church's child sex-abuse scandal by dressing as the pope from the waist up and nude from the waist down with her pubic hair shaved into a cross -- had been approved by her adviser prior to the art parade, and that people at the parade were warned they might want to cover their eyes. Ms. O'Connor, on her Facebook page, describes herself as a graduate of the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, a Catholic school in Villanova, Pa.

It was Ms. O'Connor's costume that attracted the attention of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. Bishop David A. Zubik called her outfit offensive and asked Carnegie Mellon to investigate.

Following Bishop Zubik's request, CMU president Jared L. Cohon wrote a letter to the CMU community apologizing to those who were offended. He announced in a separate letter May 10 that the university would uphold the students' rights to freedom of expression, but that the campus police would file misdemeanor charges against the students for indecent exposure.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic diocese, said Monday that Bishop Zubik's concern had been the "lack of respect for the religious beliefs of others." But Father Lengwin said it was up to the civil authority to decide what actions to take, and he said Bishop Zubik hoped the community service can be a learning opportunity.

"It has never been [Bishop Zubik's] intention, nor is it now, that her future will be impaired in any way," Father Lengwin said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: or 412-263-1707. First Published June 10, 2013 3:45 PM


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