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  No Victim Equals No Case, Attorney Says
The Lawyer, Who Is Representing a Priest, Also Said the Man's Right to Free Speech Was Violated

By Juli Cragg
Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)
September 5, 1997

Computer sex crime charges against a Sarasota Catholic priest should be dropped because they are unconstitutional and there was no victim, his attorney contends.

Motions to dismiss charges against the Rev. Jeremiah Michael Spillane are scheduled to be heard today in Clearwater by Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Anthony Rondolino.

Spillane was arrested Feb. 10 in Clearwater.

A police detective, posing as a 13-year-old boy, had corresponded with Spillane over the Internet for about three weeks.

The 43-year-old priest was arrested when he arrived for what was supposed to have been a sexual encounter with the boy, police said.

Spillane confessed, police said; later he pleaded not guilty in court. He was released on bond.

At the time, Spillane had been on staff for about 16 months at Sarasota's Incarnation Catholic Church, where several parishioners said he had made an outstanding impression. He was living at the rectory on the church's grounds, and was serving as chaplain at Sarasota's Cardinal Mooney High.

After the arrest, Spillane was placed on administrative leave by Bishop John Nevins of the Catholic Diocese of Venice, which includes Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

Spillane faces two charges: attempting to entice a child under the age of 16 to commit a lewd and lascivious act, and seduction of a child by computer.

In documents filed with the court, the priest's attorney, Joseph Ciarciaglino of St. Petersburg, argues:

* Enticing is not an element of lewd and lascivious conduct. "Therefore, since enticing means 'trying' and your defendant is charged with attempted enticing he is therefore charged with trying to try."

* No crime occurred because there was no victim. "Your defendant was never given an opportunity to see the alleged underage child and determine whether he would in fact pursue any prohibited sexual conduct with said imaginary child. "

* Charges against Spillane violate the First Amendment right to free speech and violate the Fifth Amendment by being vague. The state is attempting to impose penalty "for thought alone."

Richard McKyton, the assistant state attorney who is handling the prosecution, said he doesn't agree with the defense's motions and will contest them. But McKyton did not want to comment on the specific arguments before hearing them in court today.

"It's going to be an issue for the court to decide," McKyton said. "It's a fairly new issue."

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29. McKyton said no plea bargain had been discussed.

Since being relieved of his appointment, Spillane has had no official relationship with the Diocese of Venice, said diocese spokeswoman Gail McGrath. She said the diocese considers him to be under the authority of the Legionaries of Christ, an order of priests.

However, the Legionaries of Christ no longer consider Spillane a member because he had taken steps to leave the order, said Father Owen Kearns, a Legionaries spokesman in Connecticut.

In a separate case involving the Diocese of Venice, a former altar boy at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Port Charlotte is suing over alleged sexual abuse by a Catholic priest and a former choir director.

This week, an attorney for the diocese acknowledged that the young man who filed the suit was sexually abused.

Known in court documents by the fictitious initials "A.B.," the man says he was molested by both the Rev. Ed McLoughlin, a former assistant pastor at St. Charles, and by former choir director Richard Trepinski.

Trepinski was convicted in 1993 of molesting two former choir boys and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

 
 

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