Judge Delays Priest Sex-Abuse Case
The Rev. James J. Behan's Attorney Sought to Have Charges Dismissed, Citing the Statute of Limitations
By Jacqueline Soteropoulos
June 9, 2004
The attorney for a priest accused of sexually abusing a Philadelphia boy more than 25 years ago filed a motion yesterday to dismiss all charges, arguing the statute of limitations had long expired.
Over prosecutors' objections, Municipal Court Judge Linda Anderson agreed to postpone the preliminary hearing for the Rev. James J. Behan, and scheduled a Aug. 9 hearing to consider legal arguments on the issue.
Behan, 60, was charged in March with rape, indecent assault, corrupting a minor, and related offenses stemming from events that allegedly took place between 1978 and 1980. It was the first criminal case to result from an ongoing Philadelphia grand jury investigation into clergy sex abuse.
For criminal charges to be brought, Pennsylvania law ordinarily requires an abuse victim to notify authorities by age 30.
Because Behan's accuser, Martin Donohue of Burlington County, is 40, defense attorney Michael McGovern argued that the deadline for filing charges passed a decade ago.
But prosecutors contend that the statute of limitations does not apply in this case because Behan's religious order - the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales - transferred him to Raleigh, N.C., in 1980, effectively suspending the prosecutors' time limit.
"The commonwealth didn't know about this until 2002," Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCartney told the judge. "We believe we can prove that the statute of limitations has been tolled by the defendant leaving the state."
McCartney also argued that the statute of limitations issue should be raised after the preliminary hearing.
She told the judge that prosecutors were given no advance notice of the defense motion, and that Donohue was in the courtroom and prepared to testify.
But McGovern told the judge: "They've waited 25 years! What's another two weeks?"
In his motion, McGovern argued that prosecutors could not prove that Behan had been away from the state since 1980, nor could they prove that Behan concealed his identity or tried to hide during that period.
After the hearing, McCartney said that she was disappointed the preliminary hearing was postponed, and that Donohue had "the rug pulled out from under him."
"It's very difficult for a victim to get themselves emotionally prepared to testify in a case of this nature," she said.
Donohue declined to speak with a reporter yesterday.
At the time the sexual relationship allegedly began, Behan was a religion teacher at North Catholic High School and a friend of Donohue's family.
Behan admitted to church officials that he had sex with the teen, who was a student at the school, according to the grand jury presentment.
Contact staff writer Jacqueline Soteropoulos at 215-854-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CORRECTION-DATE: JUNE 10, 2004
CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED JUNE 10, 2004, FOLLOWS: The name of Martin Donohoe, the alleged sexual-assault victim of the Rev. James J. Behan between 1978 and 1980 in Philadelphia, was misspelled in yesterday's Inquirer.
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