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Laura Ditka, prosecutor in Penn State scandal, dies at 55 |

Laura Ditka, prosecutor in Penn State scandal, dies at 55

Megan Guza
| Tuesday, October 16, 2018 9:48 a.m
Laura Ditka poses for a photo in the Allegheny County Courthouse in 2013.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Laura Ditka poses for a photo in the Allegheny County Courthouse in 2013.

Laura Ditka, deputy attorney general and former Allegheny County deputy district attorney, died unexpectedly Monday at 55.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we honor the memory of former Deputy DA Laura Ditka who died unexpectedly,” the District Attorney’s Office tweeted Tuesday morning. “Her legacy is all the child victims and their families who are better off today because of her. She was an extraordinary public servant and person and loving mom.”

She was the lead prosecutor in the case against former Penn State President Graham Spanier for his role in covering up child abuse allegations against longtime Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Under Ditka’s prosecution, a jury found Spanier guilty of a misdemeanor charge in 2017.

A 1981 North Allegheny High School graduate, she received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and her law degree from Duquesne University.

In her 25 years in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, she established the child abuse unit, drafted the county’s first child abuse protocol and helped begin a weekly court for child abuse victims.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. chose Ditka to head the new Child Abuse Prosecution Unit when he took office. He called her a “fierce advocate” for child victims and their families.

“She was able to effortlessly earn the trust of the children and their families, and that is no easy accomplishment when dealing with these types of crimes,” Zappala said in a statement.

He said her dedication and passion in the courtroom were a reflection of who she was not only as a litigator, but as a person.

“I have been doing something that I’m really passionate about and that I love,” Ditka told the Tribune-Review in 2013. “I was motivated always by what was best for the kids.”

Ditka left for the state Attorney General’s Office in May 2013, where she oversaw the criminal division in the western part of the state.

She was recruited for the job by Bruce Beemer, who, at the time, worked in the Attorney General’s Office and would go on to serve as attorney general years later.

Given the opportunity to appoint a top criminal prosecutor for the western part of the state in 2013, Beemer said he could “think of no better person to do that than Laura.”

The two met in 1996 when he began work in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, and they worked together there for 14 years and became close friends.

He said the courtrooms in which she was prosecuting a case — which often involved the most vulnerable victims of abuse and violence — were always more crowded than usual, because everyone wanted to see her in action.

“One of the few times a judge sat up and really listened … was when Laura Ditka was speaking in court,” said Beemer, who currently serves as the state’s inspector general. “She really was a remarkable, larger-than-life person.”

Attorney Bruce Castor, who worked with Ditka in the Attorney General’s Office, said he considered her his top courtroom prosecutor.

“I’m numb over this news. Laura was someone with a statewide reputation even when she was a county prosecutor in Pittsburgh,” Castor said. “The commonwealth has lost a wonderful person and a prized asset.”

Ditka is survived by her parents, her stepmother, two brothers, a daughter and other extended family members.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter .

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