Professor Asks Leniency for Child Molester

A Harvard professor asked for leniency Friday in the sentencing of a former Yale University professor and housemaster convicted of child molestation.

Antonio C. Lasaga, an award-winning geochemist who taught at Yale for almost 15 years, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday after he plead no contest to charges of sexual assault, employing a minor in an obscene performance and risk of injury to a minor in New Haven Superior Court last month.

Harvard’s Heinrich D. Holland, Dudley research professor of economic geology, as well as two professors from Pennsylvania State University, asked Superior Court Judge Roland D. Fasano for a light sentence for Lasaga on Friday. They argued that Lasaga’s academic expertise should be considered in the sentencing.

“All of us in science are expendable, but the loss of the most capable are felt the most strongly,” Holland said in his testimony according to the Hartford Courant.

They pointed to Lasaga’s career, which began at Princeton and continued at Harvard and Penn State, before concluding at Yale. Lasaga earned his doctorate in chemical physics at Harvard in 1976 and served as a lecturer in Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Geology in 1976 and 1977.

Lasaga was conducting studies in global warming and the safe disposal of nuclear waste at the time of his arrest. His work is still taught in Harvard’s Earth and Planetary Sciences courses, Holland said.

Holland, a former professor and mentor of Lasaga, said yesterday that the revelations had come as a “horrendous shock.” He said Lasaga was well-respected and considered to be “the perfect student, the perfect professor and perfect friend.”

Hiroshi Ohmoto, one of the other professors who spoke on behalf of Lasaga, said Lasaga had a tendency to spread himself too thin with academic and social obligations.

“He was able to handle so many things so well, but he overcommitted. He may have looked for some relief in the pornographic pictures,” Ohmoto said at the sentencing hearing according to the Hartford Courant.

Despite the pleas for leniency, Fasano said Lasaga could not go unpunished. The judge reminded the professors that there was a victim.

“Even the defendant’s magnificent scientific achievements pale in comparison to the destruction of a young life,” Fasano said in his decision.

Lasaga was also sentenced to 15 years in federal prison last Wednesday for the possession and receipt of child pornography. This sentence will run concurrently with Friday’s 20-year sentence.

A former housemaster for Saybrook College—one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges—Lasaga was charged with possessing and receiving child pornography in 1998.

He later confessed to these charges, including the downloading of 150,000 digital images through a Yale University server. He also admitted to sexually abusing a New Haven boy he had met through a school mentoring program.

—Staff writer Anat Maytal can be reached at maytal@fas.harvard.edu.