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June 21, 2014

Last sex-abuse lawsuit against Elmo actor tossed out

PHILADELPHIA — A judge in Pennsylvania dismissed the last of five sex-abuse lawsuits filed against the Emmy-winning puppeteer who voiced the “Sesame Street” character Elmo.

The ruling did not weigh the merits of the claims but said 25-year-old accuser Sheldon Stephens filed suit too late against actor Kevin Clash.

Stephens accused Clash, now 53, of luring him into a sexual relationship after they met at a 2004 networking event for actors when he was about 16.

Four similar lawsuits involving other accusers were previously dismissed in New York, where Clash lives, defense lawyer Michael Berger said.

“We’re delighted with the result, and very happy that Kevin can go on with his life,” Berger said.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner found Thursday that Stephens failed to sue by age 19 under laws in New York, where their meetings took place. Stephens had sued in Pennsylvania, where longer time limits apply. He lives in Harrisburg.

“This ruling highlights the need for a window in New York to allow victims to have their day in court,” said Stephens’ lawyer, Jeff Herman, who said an appeal was possible. “We are pleased to give victims like Sheldon Stephens a voice, even if legal technicalities preclude this case from moving forward.”

The Associated Press does not typically name people who say they have been sexually assaulted, but Stephens has been public about his identity.

Clash resigned from “Sesame Street” amid the accusations, even as he continued to rack up Daytime Emmy Awards for his work. He had spent 28 years playing Elmo on the popular Public Broadcasting Service show, winning more than two dozen Emmys.

He never was charged criminally over any of the allegations, Berger said.

“Kevin is gratified that once again the courts have dismissed the claims against him,” Clash spokesman Nicholas Peters said. “We believe we (can) ... begin to turn our full attention to restoring Kevin’s personal and professional reputation ... as an accomplished and respected artist.”

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