Both sides in an unusual, high profile clergy sex abuse case have filed their final briefs so a Boonville judge may rule any day now on whether to let an already once-convicted pedophile priest go free or set a trial date for him.
Last month, defense lawyers for Fr. Jerry Howard (a.k.a. Carmine Sita) submitted to Cooper County Circuit Judge Robert Koffman a motion arguing that the statute of limitations has run out on any crimes the priest may have committed and that he should be released from jail.
And this week, Cooper County prosecutor Doug Abele filed a rebuttal, saying that the statute has not expired and that a trial should be held.
In the early 1980s in New Jersey, under the name Fr. Carmine Sita, the Roman Catholic cleric was indicted on three counts of forcible sodomy, three counts of attempted forcible sodomy, and two counts of kidnapping. He pled guilty and spent five years on probation. Then, he changed his name and was assigned to work in the Jefferson City diocese.
In April 2010, Howard was arrested again. He now faces charges that he abused at least three boys between 1983 and 1988 while he was working at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Boonville, MO.
In 2007, one of the victims, Mark McAllister (firstname.lastname@example.org), accused Sita of abusing him in 1984 and reached a settlement with church officials in 2009.
“Given Fr. Howard’s history, we are greatly concerned that he’ll change his name, move again, and molest again if he is set free,” said David Clohessy, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Now is a crucial time for any victim or witness to come forward and make a report to police.”
SNAP is pushing for others who may have seen or suspected crimes by Fr. Sita to come forward now too.
“We are not surprised Fr. Howard is trying to exploit the statute of limitations,” said Clohessy. “But for the safety of kids, it’s important that anyone who may have information or suspicions about him - no matter how small, old or seemingly insignificant – must speak up now to prevent another predator from escaping justice.”