Attorney Says Priest Too Sick to Stand Trial
By Dylan Lovan
June 19, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — An attorney says a terminally ill Catholic priest is so sick and incapacitated his upcoming trial on sodomy charges would be a "mockery."
The Rev. James Schook is scheduled for trial Monday in Louisville on seven counts, but prosecutors acknowledged that it would likely be postponed. He is accused of abusing two boys in the 1970s at St. Thomas More Church in Louisville, where Schook was an assistant pastor.
The 65-year-old has been diagnosed with terminal skin cancer. Jefferson Circuit Judge Mitch Perry said a letter from a doctor who examined Schook presented in court Wednesday indicated that the priest has late-stage cancer and his death is "imminent."
"I think it's futile to try to resolve it, or try it," said Schook's attorney, David Lambertus. "If the defendant is physically and mentally incapable of meaningfully participating, I don't think any of us want to have a trial that is just a mockery."
Schook is living in an assisted living facility in Louisville, and was not in the courtroom for Wednesday's hearing.
Prosecutors who visited with him recently said they believe the priest is competent to be tried.
"In a lot of ways he was spry and using his mental facilities. My impression was that he is doing fine and is fine for trial," said Commonwealth's Attorney John Balliet.
The advanced age of clergy members accused of committing decades-old abuses has been a factor in several criminal cases.
In 2007, 82-year-old defrocked priest Anthony Laurano died in Massachusetts just days before a judge was expected to set his trial on a rape charge. Last year, an 84-year-old priest who was extradited from the U.S. to Ireland died while awaiting a rape trial.
The prospect of another delay in Schook's criminal trial upset one of the men who accused the priest of molesting him. Schook was indicted on the charges in 2011.
"It very much bothers me, as a matter of fact it outrages me," said Michael Stansbury, who was in the courtroom. He says he was molested by Schook as a member of a youth group at St. Thomas More. "At this stage, here we are four or five days before the trial starts and now we're going to screw this up again. If he's that sick and dying of cancer, it should be known."
Stansbury said he hesitated for decades to reveal the abuse because Schook knew his family and even officiated at Stansbury's second wedding. Stansbury came forward with the allegations in 2008.
In court on Wednesday, Perry asked Lambertus to enter a motion to have Schook's competency for trial evaluated by state officials. Balliet said if that motion is entered, the judge would likely postpone the trial to make time for the evaluation.
Schook was permanently removed from ministry in 2010, but he has been allowed to retain the title of priest.