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Punxsutawney Phil’s human handler is the fall guy

CINCINNATI — Phil is off the hook.

A winter-weary Ohio prosecutor who filed a tongue-in-cheek criminal indictment against the famous Pennsylvania groundhog over his ‘‘prediction’’ of an early spring dropped the charge Tuesday. Butler County’s prosecutor, Mike Gmoser, said Punxsutawney Phil has a ‘‘defense with teeth in it’’ since the animal’s handler is taking the blame.

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The Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, northeast of Pittsburgh, attracts worldwide attention each year. But when Gmoser filed his indictment last week after snow was forecast to fall after the official start of spring, renewed attention made it feel like Feb. 2 all over again.

Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, said Monday that the furry prognosticator had actually predicted six more weeks of winter, but his handler mistakenly announced an early spring because he did not correctly interpret Phil’s ‘‘groundhog-ese.’’

‘‘Now it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil is little more than a scapegoat,’’ Gmoser wrote in the dismissal. That is a sharp contrast to last week, when Gmoser had written: ‘‘Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early.’’

Deeley said Tuesday that going after the groundhog probably gave prosecutors some relief from the challenges of bringing murderers and other criminals to justice.

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