Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Punxsutawney Phil taken off death row

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PITTSBURGH -- 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 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.

Ohio prosecutor Mike Gmoser said 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, 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.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2013 A2

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