MO- Prosecutors have new tool in older child sex cases
By David Clohessy
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests
June 18, 2014
Missouri prosecutors apparently now have a chance to pursue charges against some child molesters even in cases that are decades old. We hope they'll take advantage of this opportunity.
We urge Missouri prosecutors to look long and hard at the successful prosecution (which ended yesterday) of a serial predator priest in Cooper County for crimes he committed in the 1980s.
All too often, law enforcement officials quickly tell victims “You're too late. The statute of limitations has run.” That's not necessarily the case. Time and time again, over the last 25 years, we in SNAP have seen that “where there's a will, there's a way.” We've seen that if they are determined and creative, police and prosecutors can charge and convict older sex offenders.
That's what the Cooper County prosecutor has done. Parents and child sex abuse victims across Missouri owe him a debt of gratitude.
We are not lawyers, but our understanding is that Fr. Jerry Howard is behind bars now for two basic reasons. First, Abele argued that Missouri's statute of limitations stopped “ticking” when Fr. Howard left the state. And second, Abele argued that because lawmakers have repeatedly changed the statute of limitations, Fr. Howard's crimes in the 1980s could still be prosecuted.
We applaud Abele's diligence in this case. We hope it inspires other prosecutors to go after other similar cases in which child molesters have evaded justice for decades.
And we hope that every single person who saw, suspected or suffered Howard's crimes will find the strength to speak up now. He could walk free in 6 or 7 years, so now is not the time for anyone to become complacent.
Here are more details about the case.
In the 1980s, Fr. Carmine Sita was a priest in New Jersey. He was convicted of molesting a boy in the Jersey City area.
His Catholic supervisors then let him change his name – to Fr. Jerry Howard – and sent him to the Jefferson City diocese, with no warning to parishioners or the public, where he sexually assaulted several boys.
After leaving Boonville, Fr. Howard worked as a counselor in Boone and in Callaway counties, including a stint at the now-shuttered Charter Hospital in Columbia.
The prosecutor is Doug Abele of Cooper County (email@example.com, 660-882-7577). Howard is represented by attorney Jim Rutter of Columbia (573 303 3909, firstname.lastname@example.org). In civil suits, Howard's victims have been represented by attorney Bryan Bacon of Columbia (573 874 7777), Ken Chackes of St. Louis (314 369 3902) and Greg Gianforcaro of New Jersey.
A photo of Fr. Howard, and other information, is available at BishopAccountability.org.
The judge is Robert L. Koffman, who (lawyers tell us) is a “by the book” judge, not one to “stretch” the law or look favorably on novel legal theories.
More information on the case is available at CaseNet.