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  Miss. Woman Appeals Lawsuit against Catholic Diocese
New Claims on Hold

By Timothy R. Brown
Associated Press, carried in SunHerald.com
April 10, 2005

Jackson, Miss. - A Mississippi woman abused by a priest more than 30 years ago has appealed a judge's decision to dismiss her lawsuit against a Catholic diocese.

However, new abuse allegations that surfaced in February cannot be argued in her appeal.

Angie Phillips, 44, claimed in her lawsuit that she was sexually abused by Priest Thomas Boyce and another priest in the 1970s. In 2003, the Catholic Diocese of Jackson acknowledged the abuse by Boyce, who died in 2002, and Phillips sued the diocese.

Her lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice last year by Hinds County Circuit Judge W. Swan Yerger, who said Phillips' statute of limitations had run out.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Phillips later claimed that she was being sexually abused during the same period that she allegedly watched her father shoot 16-year-old Randy Lee Hart on June 29, 1974 at Piney Woods Country Life School in Rankin County.

Phillips also claimed she was sent to stay with Catholic parishioners and kept away from the courthouse during her father's trial.

A jury acquitted the father of murder in August 1974 after the defense argued that the shooting occurred after Hart lunged at the man and the weapon discharged accidentally.

Phillips said Hart, who was black, was seeing her sister. Phillips' mother was black and her father, who has questioned Phillips' motive for making the allegations and said her claims are lies, is Greek.

Phillips' new attorney, Hiawatha Northington II, of Jackson, said the new sex abuse allegations cannot be brought up in his client's appeal because they were never presented to Yerger before the judge's dismissal order.

"A lot of that stuff didn't come out at the trial court level. I think ultimately it should," Northington said. "I would think that as a part of her case in chief a lot of those issues would come out, but because of the amount of work that was done in the complaint that was filed in her case, there wasn't any amount of discovery and no deposition."

Therapist Gail Avery said it took Phillips years before she was able to tell her full story in February because of poor psychological health. Avery has counseled Phillips since July 2001.

"In working with her in the beginning, she was so physically and emotionally ill that I was concerned whether she would survive," Avery said.

Mississippi's law on statue of limitations needs to be changed for people like Phillips, Avery said.

"There doesn't need to be a statue of limitations of child sexual abuse," she said. "I don't think that people that are this physically damaged can be expected to come forth in a timely manner. They are not capable of it."

In a similar lawsuit, Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter ruled last year that he would not dismiss the abuse claims of two other plaintiffs against the diocese. The plaintiffs known only as John Does 6 and 7 claim they were sexually abused by Father James Kircher in the late 1970s.

In February, the Mississippi Supreme Court refused a request by the Catholic Diocese of Jackson to review what the diocese believed were conflicting judicial rulings on the sex abuse cases and DeLaughter's refusal to dismiss the lawsuit brought by John Does 6 and 7.

Northington said there are two key issues in Phillips' appeal - whether the statue of limitations has expired in her case and, "whether or not (the judge's) granting summary judgment was appropriate at that stage of this case."

"There were a lot of different opinions on when the statute of limitations started running," Northington said. "There was expert testimony, and anytime there is that many experts fighting over something, there is generally a factual dispute. She has good grounds for an appeal."

At least seven civil lawsuits by alleged victims of sexual abuse have been filed against the Catholic Diocese of Jackson, according to the diocese.

 
 

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