Video Is Cited in Ex-Priest's Appeal
Ex-Priest Fights Sex Conviction
By Peter Smith
Courier-Journal [Frankfort KY]
February 15, 2007
A videotape that jurors never saw has become a point of contention in the appeal of a former priest's conviction on sexual-abuse charges.
A lawyer argued before the Kentucky Supreme Court yesterday that Daniel C. Clark deserves a new trial where jurors can see the videotape, which allegedly shows his young accusers contradicting themselves.
But in oral arguments, an assistant attorney general said Clark's lawyer never made a case for the videotape to be shown.
Clark, 58, is serving a 10-year sentence following his 2003 conviction on charges that he sexually abused two Bullitt County boys between 1999 -- when one was 8 years old and the other 9 -- and 2002. The Vatican removed Clark from the priesthood in 2004.
Clark's is the only criminal case involving the sexual-abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Louisville in which Kentucky's highest court is hearing an appeal. Accusations of abuse by people connected with the archdiocese have led to the convictions of four priests and two former lay teachers since 2002.
David Lambertus told the Supreme Court that his client deserves a new trial.
He argued that Bullitt Circuit Judge Thomas Waller erred when he refused to allow Lambertus to show a videotape of a social worker interviewing the two victims.
Lambertus contended the video would show that the boys contradicted their later trial testimony and that the social worker was "coaching" them into giving certain answers.
If jurors "saw these tapes, they could have said there wasn't a story here until the witness started talking to the social worker and the story developed," Lambertus said.
But Assistant Attorney General Susan Lenz said Lambertus failed to ask witnesses at the trial about the interview, a necessary first step before entering the tape into evidence.
"He couldn't have just played the tape for the jurors," she said. " … He could have called the social worker and questioned her about the method of questioning."
Some justices appeared to agree.
"Was the social worker unavailable?" Justice Will Scott asked Lambertus, who acknowledged he "didn't feel it was necessary" to call the social worker.
Lambertus also argued that one of the charges against Clark was invalid because the older victim turned 12 during the time the indictment says the abuse took place. He said that raises a "reasonable doubt" that the victim was too old for the sex crime to be a felony.
Justice Wil Schroder asked Lenz why the prosecution did not amend the indictment to avoid that problem.
"Had I been the prosecutor in that case, your honor, I would have done that," Lenz acknowledged. " … It certainly would have made things a lot more simple."
A third dispute centered on a prosecution witness whom Clark was convicted of abuse in a case in the 1980s.
Both sides agreed that the law allows such testimony to show the defendant had a pattern of criminal conduct.
But Lambertus said there was no pattern, contending that the first case involved a boy who came to a priest for counseling and the second involved a family Clark had befriended.
Under questioning from Justice Mary Noble, Lambertus acknowledged that Clark was still a priest at the time of the second case. But Lambertus said it "was purely a social relationship. It had nothing to do with counseling, church, school or anything else."
"The ages were similar, they were all little boys, he was in a position of trust with each," she said.
Jeff Koenig, who was among 19 plaintiffs who settled lawsuits with the Archdiocese of Louisville over claims of abuse against Clark, observed yesterday's hearing along with two other advocates for victims.
Koenig alleges he was fondled at age 12 by Clark in the early 1980s, too long ago to bring misdemeanor charges against the former priest. He believes all sex crimes against children should be felonies.
"That's why it's so important to get these laws changed," he said.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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