|Priest Given Maximum
By Jill Murphy
March 7, 2005
Former priest Frank Benham was sentenced to 18 months in jail on Friday for sexually abusing two young members of two county parishes in the late 1970s.
"He has been free, for the past 25 years while I have been carrying my cross," Matthew Ponton said during Benham’s sentencing hearing. Ponton met Benham as a teenager at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Beltsville.
Statements read in court by the victims and their mothers convinced county Circuit Court Judge Michelle Hotten to mandate the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement struck with the state’s attorney’s office in December.
The victims agreed to the plea bargain, which suspended all but 18 months of Benham’s possible 20-year sentence, to be followed by three years of probation. The agreement also required Benham to register on the national sex offenders list and to abstain from contact with anyone under the age of 18, according to state’s attorney spokesman Ramon Korionoff.
When Benham, 68, and his attorney entered the courtroom, Donna Kollars, the first to accuse Benham of sexual abuse in 1979, said there was an uneasy moment when she was standing shoulder to shoulder with Benham.
Benham turned to the victims and apologized for his crimes, but blamed his actions on his abuse of alcohol at the time.
In her statement to the judge, the victim talked about how active she was in the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Forestville until she was lured into the intimate relationship with Benham at the age of 13.
When the case began Benham was living in Illinois, where he moved in 1979 and continued to minister in the Archdiocese of Columbus for more than five years. After leaving the priesthood, he became the director of a drug and alcohol rehab clinic where he counseled sex offenders until 2000, according to his local newspaper, The Lincoln Courier.
After the sentencing, Benham was handcuffed and taken into police custody. He will serve his sentence at the Prince George’s County Correctional Facility.
"I’m still pressing forward," Kollars said. "I know there are other victims. Even the other man who reported being molested by Benham but hasn’t pressed charges. It would be nice to even get him [to come forward]."
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