NJ - Predator priest loses key ruling

A New Jersey Catholic priest – who pled guilty to molesting a Jersey City boy in the early 1980s - will stay locked up until he goes on trial for molesting three Missouri boys in the late 1980s, a judge has ruled on Friday.

Lawyers for the cleric, Fr. Jerry Howard, claimed that the statute of limitations had expired on his crimes. But Cooper County Missouri Circuit Judge Robert Koffman disagreed, and ordered the case to go to trial.

Fr. Howard – who worked in the Newark diocese as Fr. Carmine Sita before he changed his name in the early 1980’s – has been behind bars since April of 2010, when he was arrested in New Jersey and sent back to Missouri. He was indicted on three counts of forcible sodomy, three counts of attempted forcible sodomy, and two counts of kidnapping. The charges say 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.

Fr. Howard is no stranger to the court room. In 1983, he pled guilty to charges that he abused the Jersey City boy and gave him drugs. As a result, the priest served five years of probation. Despite this, he was encouraged to change his name by church officials, and after doing so, was sent to the Diocese of Jefferson City, MO, giving him access to more kids. In 2007, Mark McAlister of Virginia came forward accusing Sita of abusing him in Boonville in 1984. The case was settled in 2009 for $800,000.

“Given Fr. Howard’s history, we are greatly concerned for the safety of kids both in Missouri and New Jersey,” said David Clohessy, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We are grateful that the judge has ruled against him and on the side of protecting children.”

SNAP is pushing for others who may have seen, suspected, or suffered crimes by Fr. Howard to come forward now.
At least four more New Jersey men have stepped forward In recent years alleging that they too were sexually assaulted as kids by Howard. 

“If New Jersey’s predator-friendly statute of limitations had been reformed, it’s doubtful that this serial predator would have been able to continue hurting kids for so long under the radar,” said Mark Crawford, SNAP’s New Jersey leader (732-632-7687, mecrawf@comcast.net). “Let’s hope lawmakers look at this priest’s decades of devastation and make it easier for deeply wounded crime victims to expose criminals in court.”

Fr. Howard is represented by Columbia, MO defense attorney Jim Rutter (info@criminallawattorneycolumbiamo.com, 573-443-5209). The prosecutor in the case is Cooper County DA Doug Abele (ccpa@c-magic.com, 660-882-7577). A photo of Fr. Howard is available at BishopAccountability.org.

Here is the text of the judge’s ruling:

Motion Denied

Comes now the Court and, after having taken matters under advisement and allowing the parties to provide suggestions, enters its order denying the defendant's motion to dismiss per formal entry filed. The Circuit Clerk is directed to notify counsel. Judge Robert L. Koffman.

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