'Old Law' May Aid Former Priest
Sex Offender Eligible for Parole after Six Months

By Dan Wilson
Post-Crescent [Wisconsin]
August 11, 2004

Former priest John Patrick Feeney, sentenced in April to 15 years in prison on sexual assault charges, will be eligible for parole after serving just six months of his sentence.

Feeney was sentenced to 15 years in prison on April 30 on three counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of attempted sexual assault of a child.

The charges stemmed from assaults of two brothers, ages 12 and 14, in May 1978 when Feeney was the parish priest at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom.

Last week, the Parole Commission of the Department of Corrections sent out copies of a notice of parole consideration to the victims, the attorneys and the judge.

"This is based on the law that was in effect at the time of the offense," Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Clausius said Tuesday. "It is what we call 'old law.'"

Clausius said under that old law, an inmate could seek parole after serving six months.

In 1983 the law was changed, requiring an inmate to serve one-quarter of his or her sentence before becoming eligible for parole. That law has since been superseded by the truth-in-sentencing law, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2000, and eliminated parole eligibility and replaced it with fixed terms with extended supervision.

Since Feeney was sentenced on April 30, his parole eligibility date is Oct. 30.

"This is a closed interview in which the commissioner goes to the prison and meets with the inmate and goes over their record and tells the inmate what their recommendation will probably be," said Clausius.

The commissioner then makes a recommendation to the Parole Commission chairman for either release, parole or deferral.

There will not be an open hearing. Anyone who objects must do so in writing.

"We will be writing letters," said Todd Merryfield, now of Cedarburg, who, along with his brother, Troy, were the victims in the case.

"The whole thing is ludicrous," he said. "It gets to the point were you just shrug your shoulders and say we did what we could do."

Vince Biskupic, the special prosecutor in the case, has already sent a letter to the Parole Commission in which he noted there were other victims besides the Merryfields.

"Based on the manipulative and horrific nature of Feeney's crimes against numerous young boys over several decades, I strongly object to any parole for this defendant," wrote Biskupic.

Biskupic said he was unaware of the old parole eligibility law.

Feeney's attorney, Gerald Boyle, said this was also the first time he had heard of it.

"I just don't understand it," said Boyle. "I don't have anything to do with it at all except that we are preparing an appeal on the statute of limitations question."

Dan Wilson can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 304, or by e-mail: