Mo. High Court Reverses Priest's Abuse Conviction
By Robert Patrick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
November 7, 2006
The Missouri Supreme Court overturned the sodomy conviction and 20-year prison sentence of a local Catholic priest today, severely limiting prosecutors' ability to go after allegations of decades-old sexual abuse.
The unanimous decision by all the judges on the court is "clean-cut and crystal clear," said Christian Goeke, one of the lawyers representing the Rev. Thomas Graham. Goeke said that the court decision means that there is a three-year limit on sodomy charges and that the other similar cases that had been filed or were awaiting the outcome of the Graham case are now dead.
St. Louis prosecutors indicted Graham in 2002 and a jury convicted him last year of sodomizing a teenage boy in the Old Cathedral in St. Louis sometime in the 1970s. Jurors recommended 20 years in prison and Circuit Judge Angela Turner Quigless followed that recommendation, but Graham has been out on bond pending the outcome of his appeal.
"Father Graham's maintained his innocence from day one and although justice prevailed he still has to deal with the fact that a jury made a finding of guilt. And that's unfortunate," Goeke said.
Prosecutors interpreted the law in place at the time of the alleged crime to mean that for a crime punishable by up to life in prison, there was no statute of limitations – essentially no expiration date beyond which crimes were too old to prosecute. Since sodomy was punishable by a minimum of two years in prison, a sentence for sodomy could be life, they reasoned.
But Graham's lawyers disagreed, and challenged Graham's conviction on a number of grounds, including a challenge to the constitutionality of the sodomy law itself.
The court did not address the other issues, simply saying that in a case where the law is ambiguous, the law should be interpreted in favor of a criminal defendant, meaning the statute of limitations for sodomy is three years and Graham's prosecution came too late.
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