Court allows prosecution in old abuse case
By Robert Patrick, The Post-Dispatch
Tuesday, Dec. 21 2004
The Missouri Supreme Court refused Tuesday to prevent the
prosecution of a
Catholic priest accused of sodomizing a young boy more than
25 years ago,
meaning that other decades-old clergy sex abuse cases across
the state can now
"The impact is enormous," said attorney Art Margulis,
who is representing the
Rev. Thomas Graham.
Although they maintain his innocence, attorneys for Graham
insist the statute
of limitations had run out before prosecutors filed sodomy
Missouri prosecutors believe the state's law during the 1970s
allowed them to
file charges at any time. Lawyers on both sides view the Graham
appeal as a
test case that could have sweeping effects across the state.
Last year, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce told
that her office had received more than 100 credible complaints
priests since 2002. Many of them date back decades.
Joyce and Assistant Circuit Attorney Ed Postawko said Tuesday
that they weren't
sure of the current numbers and couldn't predict how many
could result in
Some of those cases have been referred to other jurisdictions,
and others face
the high hurdles that are common in child sexual abuse cases
- lapsed memories,
a lack of evidence and the death, disappearance or disability
"I don't anticipate any floodgate being opened,"
Postawko cautioned. "It
doesn't mean we're going to see dozens or hundreds" of
cases being filed.
But Margulis said other cases are rumored to be waiting in
the wings in St.
Louis County, Jackson County and Springfield, Mo. Prosecutors
jurisdictions and in Jefferson and Cape Girardeau counties
could not be reached
For Graham, 71, the decision means his case will now move
forward in St. Louis
In 2002, prosecutors charged Graham with orally sodomizing
a boy in the rectory
of the Old Cathedral in St. Louis sometime between 1975 and
1978 under a 1969
law that said there was no statute of limitations for "abominable
detestable crimes against nature."
Postawko, head of the sex crimes and child abuse unit, found
that law by poring
through old law books at St. Louis University, he and Joyce
Until the law was replaced on Jan. 1, 1979, it said there
was no statute of
limitations for crimes that were punishable by "death
or by imprisonment in the
penitentiary during life."
Joyce's office reasoned that since the maximum penalty for
sodomy was life in
prison, there was no statute of limitations for cases before
Graham's lawyers, Margulis and Christian Goeke, said that
the statute applied
only to crimes serious enough that both death and life in
St. Louis Circuit Judge Patricia Cohen agreed with prosecutors.
elevated to the Court of Appeals, and Circuit Judge Evelyn
Baker took over the
case, then dismissed it in a way designed to allow prosecutors
to appeal. They
did, and the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals
Cohen. Goeke and Margulis asked the state Supreme Court to
hear the case, but
the judges announced Tuesday afternoon that they would not
take the case.
"Well, we're disappointed," Goeke said Tuesday
after being alerted to the
decision. "It is a nonappealable ruling."
David Clohessy, executive director for the Survivors Network
of those Abused by
Priests, said, "I've known . . . Graham's (alleged) victim
for years, for
probably 12 years and there's no one who's suffered as much
and struggled as
"Many, many victims have long ago given up on the justice
system," he said. "I
hope this will prod them to reconsider."
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis declined to
comment on the court's
decision. Graham has been removed from his work with the church
while the case
is open. He is free on $15,000 bond.
Last year, Joyce said she was prompted to begin filing charges
under the old
law when then-Archbishop Justin Rigali told her that the church
forwarded allegations against priests to investigators - a
position she said
was morally and ethically wrong but not illegal.
The church has been cooperative since that time, Joyce has