Mississippi’s top court says it won’t reconsider sex abuse conviction of former friar

Associated Press [New York NY]

January 26, 2024

By Associated Press

The Mississippi Supreme Court will not consider an appeal from a former Franciscan friar who was convicted in 2022 in the 1990s sexual abuse of a student at a Catholic school.

The court decision was announced Thursday, and it means the conviction of Paul West remains in place.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled in August that it found “no reversible error” in the conviction. West’s attorneys then asked the Supreme Court to further examine the case. Justices did not explain their decision not to do so.

West, 63, is in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

Leflore County jurors in April 2022 found West guilty of one count of sexual battery and one count of gratification of lust.

A judge sentenced him to 30 years on the first count and 15 years on the second count, to be served at the same time.

As first reported by The Associated Press in 2019, La Jarvis Love and his cousin, Joshua Love, had accused West of numerous instances of sexual abuse while they were students at St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood. The AP usually does not identify victims of sexual abuse, but the cousins agreed to be identified.

West’s attorneys argued on appeal that prosecutors failed to prove La Jarvis Love was younger than 18 when the abuse occurred. A majority of the appeals court judges wrote that West’s attorneys should have raised that challenge during the trial.

La Jarvis Love and Joshua Love testified during West’s trial of repeated abuse by West beginning when they were in the fourth grade. They testified the abuse occurred both at the school and on trips to New York and to Wisconsin, where the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are based. West was a member of the religious order.

West left Mississippi in the late 1990s. He returned to his home state of Wisconsin and left the Franciscan order. In September 2020, he was extradited from Wisconsin to Mississippi to face criminal charges in the sexual abuse case.

St. Francis of Assisi School primarily served Black and Hispanic families in Greenwood, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) north of Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson. About a month after West was convicted, the school announced it was closing after more than 70 years. The decision came after the sex abuse scandal, declining enrollment and a steep decrease in donations.