Editorial: Justice in Secret

Review-Journal [Nevada]
December 7, 2003

Public should know where priest is being sent for treatment

Mark Roberts, a priest at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church in Henderson, who is still on the payroll of the church, pleaded guilty in a January plea deal to one count of open and gross lewdness and four counts of child abuse and neglect, after five teenage boys in the Henderson church came forward to describe a series of bizarre, sexually themed rituals to which they had been subjected by the priest.

Roberts could have received up to five years in jail, but District Judge Donald Mosley instead sentenced him to three years' probation, to be served in an in-house treatment facility.

Supposedly, he will be allowed to leave that facility only in the company of a staff member or guard. Yet Missouri officials refused to let him be transferred to a facility there, because one of his victims now lives in that state. Could this betray some lack of confidence on the part of the Missouri officials as to just how reliably strict Roberts' confinement there would have been?

At any rate, Judge Mosley on Wednesday decided to send convict Roberts somewhere else.

The only problem is, neither his victims, nor their families, nor the public at large, gets to find out where that will be.

Asked why everyone in court seemed to be studiously avoiding any mention of where Roberts is supposed to serve his time, Clark County prosecutor Doug Herndon said Wednesday, "I don't think the judge wants it released."

That's strange and dangerous.

"Given he is a person who has committed these type of crimes, I don't think ethically you can keep that secret," comments Jody Tyson, director of the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence. "People in that community need to know."

Indeed. As do other interested parties.

What if Roberts were to escape, or somehow win early release? Wouldn't the families of his victims deserve to know? Yet how are they to check if they don't know where he is? For that matter, how could the institution contact them in such an event, if by doing so staff might reveal the secret location?

Even more important -- even if it may seem unlikely in this particular case -- the place where a prisoner is to serve his time is public information for the protection of the prisoner himself. It hasn't been that many decades since "paupers' fields" full of the bodies of poor inmates who had died, forgotten, in state custody were discovered on the grounds of prison farms in the deep South.

Perhaps Judge Mosley hopes only to protect Mark Roberts from extrajudicial punishment by fellow patients, should they learn the nature of his crimes.

But if the court acknowledges that's likely, surely its obligation is to order meaningful reform of the system, not to play some bizarre version of "which shell hides the pea" with its patients' whereabouts.

And surely by remanding him to a treatment facility instead of into the regular penal system, the judge has already gone a long way toward exposing this offender to less likelihood of physical harm.

But this secrecy -- offering no possibility of public review of the efficacy or appropriateness of the "treatment" ordered -- cannot be allowed to stand. Unless Judge Mosley can offer some previously unrevealed rationale for this unusual edict, he should quickly rethink and correct this attempt at secret justice.

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