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Missouri Supreme 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
move forward.

"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 charges against
their client.

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 the Post-Dispatch
that her office had received more than 100 credible complaints against 61
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
charges.

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 of witnesses.

"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 in those
jurisdictions and in Jefferson and Cape Girardeau counties could not be reached
for comment.

For Graham, 71, the decision means his case will now move forward in St. Louis
Circuit Court.

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 and
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 said.

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 1979.

Graham's lawyers, Margulis and Christian Goeke, said that the statute applied
only to crimes serious enough that both death and life in prison were
sentencing options.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Patricia Cohen agreed with prosecutors. Cohen was
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 agreed with
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
long.

"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 had not
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 said.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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