Victims: Priest Could Have Been Charged in Wisconsin, Minnesota

Duluth News Tribune
April 1, 2010

A group representing victims of clergy sexual abuse renewed claims Wednesday that Milwaukee prosecutors should have charged a priest in the 1970s with sexual abuse, citing documents that suggest prosecutors knew about the allegations before the statute of limitations expired.

Also, a document indicates the Rev. Lawrence Murphy could have been charged by Minnesota for alleged abuse during a trip with a boy, though it’s not known if Wisconsin prosecutors ever notified their Minnesota counterparts.

E. Michael McCann, the Milwaukee County district attorney from 1968 to 2004, countered the victims group is overestimating the significance of the documents and maintained his office was handcuffed by a statute of limitations that required prosecution within six years of the alleged crimes.

Murphy was accused of molesting as many as

200 boys at the St. John’s School for the Deaf just outside Milwaukee from 1950 to 1974. He never was criminally charged and moved to Boulder Junction in the Superior Diocese, where he died in 1998 and where he also has been accused of abuse.

Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the group found an affidavit written by one of the victims dated May 1974 saying Murphy assaulted the boy numerous times in 1970. The affidavit was one of about 20 submitted to the district attorney’s office, Isely said.

“They say it was outside the statute of limitations,” he said. “The evidence here shows it was not outside the statute of limitations.”

All the other affidavits have since disappeared, but the victim recently found a copy of his affidavit in a stack of personal papers, Isely said. It says Murphy assaulted the boy during a senior trip to New York and Washington, D.C., as well as on a separate trip to Minnesota a few months later.

McCann said his office had no jurisdiction to prosecute those allegations because they occurred in other states. He said he didn’t know whether William Gardner, an assistant district attorney who worked on Murphy’s case, informed authorities in those states about the allegations.

Had McCann’s office notified Minnesota, it’s possible a prosecution could have been pursued long after Wisconsin’s six-year statute of limitations expired because of a “tolling” provision in Minnesota law that may have been in effect at the time.

Tolling allows a state where a crime is committed to stop the clock on statute of limitations laws if the offender leaves the state. The clock resumes when the offender returns.

“Interestingly enough, it looks like a 1905 [tolling] law was in effect at that time,” St. Louis County Attorney Melanie Ford told the News Tribune Wednesday, cautioning she had not made an exhaustive search of applicable laws during the 1970s.

McCann said Gardner was unable to bring criminal charges in other alleged cases due to the statute of limitations.

Other documents released Wednesday by Isely’s group include a photocopy of notecards that he said came from the district attorney’s office.

One lists Murphy’s name and is dated July 17, 1974. It notes a request “to have EMM talk to Gardner relative to his decision to issue warrant against above named for allegedly sexually molesting many boys at the school.” After the note are the handwritten initials of EMM.

McCann said the initials could be his, and that such cards were typically prepared by his secretary. He said the photocopy does nothing more than confirm he and Gardner discussed the case. Nothing came of the discussion, he said, because of the statute of limitations.

The Vatican has come under fire in recent weeks after the release of church documents showing an office run by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, told church leaders in Milwaukee and the Diocese of Superior to keep the allegations against Murphy secret and discouraged Wisconsin church officials from defrocking Murphy.


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