Abuse Trial: Priest Must Pay Woman

Birmingham News
November 2, 1993

Little Rock, Ark. (AP) - A federal court jury awarded $1.5 million in damages to an Alabama woman who accused a Roman Catholic priest of sexually abusing her when she was a child. The priest took the Fifth Amendment when asked about children in several states. The lawyer for the Rev. Timothy Sugrue said Monday the jury arrived at the right verdict in the civil case filed by Kimberly Phillips. Ms. Phillips, 23, now of Birmingham, contended that the priest sexually molested her in 1978 when she was 8 years old and he was a military chaplain at Eaker Air Force Base in Blytheville, where her father was stationed. Sugrue took the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 15 times on various questions involving sexual abuse of Ms. Phillips, her sister, and other children in Ohio, Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas and Georgia. The priest, however, testified via videotape that he did not have sexual intercourse with her or fondle her. He took the Fifth Amendment, however, when asked if she was enticed to touch him in a sexual manner. "I think the jury did an excellent job," said Ken Cook, a Little Rock attorney representing Sugrue. "I think the verdict was right and reasonable." Cook was hired to represent Sugrue by the Society of Mary, or Marists, of which Sugrue is a member. The priest is now a business manager for the Marists in Washington. Ms. Phillips also sued the society, but the jury did not award damages against it.

An official with the society testified during the trial that the order knew of no sexual abuse problem involving Sugrue or the church. "There's not any way based on the evidence that they couldn't have found against Father Sugrue," Cook said. The jury deliberated a total of about five hours late Friday afternoon and on Monday morning. The award included about $500,000 in compensatory damages and about $1 million in punitive damages. Sugrue, however, has taken a vow of poverty, and is believed to have few assets.


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