Punxsutawney Phil's handler takes blame for faulty forecast

Feb. 2, 2007: Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, is held up by his handlers in Punxsutawney, Pa. (AP)

Feb. 2, 2007: Punxsutawney Phil, the weather-predicting groundhog, is held up by his handlers in Punxsutawney, Pa. (AP)

An Ohio prosecutor who has 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.

That's right, Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club's Inner Circle, on Monday told The Associated Press that the animal rightly predicted six more weeks of winter last month, but Deeley 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.

As a result, Butler County, Ohio prosecutor, Mike Gmoser also told the AP 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, referring to Phil, not Deeley, his 63-year-old handler. "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 announced 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, before keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek by announcing plans to seek the death penalty.

Deeley tells the AP 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 said the borough is nonetheless pleased to still be in the news more than six week later -- "We couldn't have generate this much publicity with a $10,000 ad campaign" -- albeit with more snow on the ground canceling its local schools on Monday.

"Normally, this time of the year, nobody mentions our name so, good or bad, I guess they're talking," Deeley said. "This morning in bed I talked to a Philadelphia radio station."