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Pa. groundhog's handler taking blame for wrong forecast, prosecutor mulling 'pardon' for Phil

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. - An Ohio prosecutor who light-heartedly filed a criminal indictment against the famous Pennsylvania groundhog who fraudulently "predicted" an early spring said he may consider a pardon now that the animal's handler is taking the blame.

Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, told The Associated Press on Monday that the animal rightly predicted six more weeks of winter last month, but he mistakenly announced an early spring because he failed to correctly interpret Phil's "groundhog-ese."

"I'm the guy that did it; I'll be the fall guy. It's not Phil's fault," Deeley said.

Butler County, Ohio, prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the AP that he's reconsidering the charges in light of the new evidence and may issue a full pardon.

"Frankly, he is a cute little rascal, a cute little thing," Gmoser said. "And if somebody is willing to step up to the plate and take the rap, I'm willing to listen."

The Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, a borough about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, attracts worldwide attention each year. But the attention stretched well beyond Feb. 2 when Gmoser last week issued an indictment as winter-like weather continued across much of the nation even as spring began.

"Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Gmoser's indictment said. The penalty? Death, Smoser said, tongue firmly in cheek.

Deeley said this is the second year in a row he's misinterpreted Phil's forecast. "Remember, last year at this time it was 80 degrees and Phil had predicted six more weeks of winter," Deeley said.

Under normal circumstances, Deeley's interpretation of the forecast is infallible, as long as he clings to the gnarly, magical "Arcadian" cane while the rodent whispers the forecast into his ear. Deeley still doesn't know what went wrong, but he said the borough is nonetheless pleased to still be in the news more than six weeks later — although there's more snow on the ground, and local schools were closed Monday.

"We couldn't have generated this much publicity with a $10,000 ad campaign," he said.

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