|Priest Ruling Could Affect Possible Ericksen Prosecution
Duluth News Tribune
July 21, 2010
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a sexual abuse conviction of a once-prominent Jesuit priest in a ruling that could have an impact on whether Sawyer County authorities decide to prosecute a former Superior Diocese priest.
MADISON — The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a sexual abuse conviction of a once-prominent Jesuit priest in a ruling that could have an impact on whether Sawyer County authorities decide to prosecute a former Superior Diocese priest.
Donald McGuire had appealed a 2006 conviction of assaulting two boys in the late 1960s, challenging that the statute of limitations for his assaults had expired and that he didn't receive a fair trial.
In a 7-0 ruling, justices said they were satisfied the trial was fair and that "justice has not miscarried for any reason."
The ruling could affect a decision by Sawyer County prosecutors whether to charge former priest Tom Ericksen, who acknowledged on Monday that he fondled three boys in the early 1980s while assigned by the Superior Diocese to Winter, Wis. The Sawyer County Sheriff's Department opened an investigation into the sexual assault allegations last week.
In his case, McGuire contended that his prosecution more than 35 years after the alleged crimes in Fontana in southeast Wisconsin violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. His lawyer, Robert Henak, argued that a law "tolling," or stopping the clock on the six-year statute of limitations because McGuire was living outside of Wisconsin, was unconstitutional as applied in the case. Henak said he would consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.
"If any one of us faced an allegation that was 35 to 40 years old ... I don't think any of us could have a fair trial," he said. "Unfortunately for all of us, the Supreme Court disagrees."
Writing for the Wisconsin court, Justice David Prosser said McGuire offered no support for his claims that the dead witnesses and missing documents would have exonerated him, calling that mere speculation. Prosser also said that, importantly, both victims testified at trial and were rigorously cross-examined by his attorney.
"Without any indication of what the unavailable evidence would have demonstrated, we conclude that reversal is unwarranted because the real controversy was fully tried," Prosser wrote.
The court's upholding of the tolling law could clear the way for prosecutors to charge Ericksen, who left Wisconsin in 1983 shortly after his alleged abuse of at least two boys in Winter.
On Monday, Ericksen, now of Kansas City, Mo., admitted abusing three boys, telling an Associated Press reporter he "just fondled (them) and stuff like that" but said he "never had sex" with them and denied abusing a fourth boy.
McGuire, now 80, was sentenced to seven years in prison but allowed to remain free during his appeal.
Or somewhat free. In a separate case, federal prosecutors in Chicago convicted him on charges of traveling outside the U.S. and across state lines to have sex with a teenager. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence and is being held at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Mo., but he is appealing that conviction.
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