|Accused Abusers Freed in Bay Area / 16, Including Ex-Priests, Released after Court Ruling
By Jaxon Van Derbeken, Henry K. Lee
June 28, 2003
The number of accused child molesters set free in the Bay Area under this week's U.S. Supreme Court ruling reached 16 Friday night, and nearly that many more could see charges dropped in the next week.
Among those freed or soon to be released are some of the region's highest profile defendants -- former Catholic priests accused of molesting young parishioners, sometimes 20 or 30 years ago. They include ex-priest Austin Peter Keegan, who was dubbed by San Francisco prosecutors the "poster boy for pedophiles."
As stunned prosecutors watched cases evaporate under the high court's ruling that California can't retroactively prosecute decades-old cases, legal aides to state Attorney General Bill Lockyer tried to salvage what they could. They advised district attorneys that some molestation charges might still be valid under certain circumstances.
In a memo, Chief Assistant Attorney General Robert Anderson urged "immediate release" of anyone convicted under the now-invalid law. But he also opined that any case involving acts of molestation as far back as 1988 could still pass legal muster under the ruling.
The court invalidated provisions of a 1994 California law that had extended the statute of limitations for child molestation and allowed prosecutions years after the crimes took place.
At the time the 1994 law was enacted, Anderson said, the statute of limitations went back six years to 1988. Hence, Anderson's memo says, any case that could have been legally brought at the time the law changed can still be brought now.
But many of the Bay Area's most notorious cases do not fall into that category.
Keegan, 67, a former Catholic priest who had worked in San Francisco and then Santa Rosa, was freed Friday while San Francisco prosecutors evaluate what to do about the 102 counts he still faced. At the time of his arrest in March, he was working at an orphanage in Mexico.
"I think it's a tragedy," said one victim, Bill Pelzl, "for our Supreme Court to protect those who are violating our children."
Terence McAteer, another of Keegan's alleged victims, struggled Friday with the realization that the case is simply over.
"It's been the 36-year-long trail -- it ended, you have to live with that, you can't be consumed by it," he said.
Keegan's lawyer, Deputy Public Jennifer Johnson, said the court's ruling leaves little comfort for anyone involved. "It's a tough situation," she said. "There's no happy ending."
Also released Friday in San Francisco was Salvatore Billante, a former lay brother with the Salesians order, who faced 181 counts alleging that he molested two victims at a religious camp.
Billante, 63, known as "Brother Sal," was a lay member of the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order and had been youth minister at Corpus Christi Church for 25 years.
Along with nine defendants who were freed Thursday in Santa Clara County and two Friday in San Francisco, three were let go in Sonoma County, one in San Mateo County, and one in Contra Costa County.
"Needless to say, we're crushed by it," said San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan.
Two other San Francisco cases soon will be dismissed under the court's ruling.
Twenty-five counts of child molestation involving three victims against defrocked former monsignor Patrick O'Shea are likely to be dismissed Monday. And eight counts, involving two brothers, against a onetime San Francisco Police Department chaplain, retired Monsignor Rev. John Heaney, are likely to be dismissed next month.
In Sonoma County, three accused molesters were set free Friday: Neil Carter, 61, Randall Chiado, 52, and Grant Hudson, 56.
Carter had been charged with 14 felonies but had not been tried; Chiado had been in jail after pleading guilty to molestation; and Hudson was arrested in April and had not yet entered a plea.
Meanwhile, an attorney for defrocked Roman Catholic priest Donald Wren Kimball, 59, plans to ask a Sonoma County court to free his client on Monday. Kimball is serving a seven-year term at San Quentin State Prison for child molestation.
In Contra Costa County, authorities released Robert Ponciroli, a former priest accused of molesting two altar boys at churches in Antioch and Oakland in the 1970s and early 1980s.
In San Mateo County, the case against Donald Kelly, 59, who had been charged in 2002 with 52 counts of molestation based on a 1980 case, was dismissed Friday, and he was freed from custody, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Seven more San Mateo cases will be dismissed in coming days, Wagstaffe said, including one against Jack Long, 68, who ran a Redwood City karate school and was convicted last fall of molesting an 11-year-old girl, a karate student, during the 1970s. Long was sentenced in January and could have spent the rest of his life in state prison.
"It's a sad day," Wagstaffe said. "One of the victims, after she stopped crying, asked, 'When does he get out? I'm going to have to sell my house and move out of state,' " Wagstaffe said.
In Alameda County, charges were dropped Friday against Stephen Kiesle, who was already free on bail facing charges of molesting five children 25 to 30 years ago when he was a priest at Santa Paula Church in Fremont.
OTHER CASES DROPPED
Deputy District Attorney Kevin Murphy, who handles sexual-assault cases, said that it's "probably a possibility" that other cases also will be dismissed.
A hearing is scheduled Monday for Mike Phelps, the winningest boys high school basketball coach in state history, charged with molesting an 11-year- old boy more than three decades ago.
Robert Freitas, a Catholic priest who pleaded guilty in December to molesting a 15-year-old boy at a Fremont church in 1979, also will ask to have his case dismissed.
The high court ruling may also doom the case against Yusuf Bey, the Black Muslim leader accused of raping young girls associated with his Oakland organization, authorities said. A hearing in that case is scheduled for Monday.
Danville attorney William Gagen, who represents Freitas, Kiesle and Phelps, said he is confident the charges against them will vanish.
In Santa Clara County, where nine accused molesters have been freed, Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu said more releases were likely forthcoming.
"We don't have a number yet on the cases, and we're getting a very negative feedback from victims," Sinunu said. "So it's a sad day." In line to have cases dropped
Some of those whose molestation cases are likely to be dismissed or have already been dropped because of Thursday's Supreme Court decision:
Yusuf Bey, Black Muslim leader in Oakland accused of raping young girls. Authorities say that prosecution is in jeopardy.
Robert Freitas, Catholic priest who pleaded guilty in December to molesting a 15-year-old boy at a Fremont church in 1979. Seeking to have his case dismissed.
John Heaney, former Catholic chaplain to the San Francisco Police Department, accused of molesting two brothers 40 years ago. Case likely to be dismissed next month.
Austin Peter Keegan, a former Catholic priest accused of molesting children in the 1960s. Released on own recognizance Friday.
Stephen Kiesle, accused of molesting five children 25 to 30 years ago when he was a priest at Santa Paula Church in Fremont. Charges dismissed Friday.
Donald Kimball, defrocked Sonoma County priest convicted last year of fondling 13-year-old girl in 1981. Seeking dismissal of conviction.
Mike Phelps, basketball coach at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, charged with molesting an 11-year-old boy more than three decades ago. Dismissal hearing Monday.
Patrick O'Shea, defrocked former Catholic monsignor in San Francisco Archdiocese, charged with molesting three boys in the 1960s and '70s. Dismissal hearing scheduled for Monday.
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