A mother’s lament: California should eliminate the cutoff time to file charges against sex abusers

Sacramento Bee [Sacramento CA]

April 29, 2024

By Joe Rubin

For Deanna Hampton, last week was all about confronting the past and the legacy of rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and trying to ensure that families don’t suffer in the future.

It’s a deeply personal issue for Hampton. Last fall, The Sacramento Bee told the story of her son, Trevor Martin,
who was serially abused by priest Michael Kelly in Calaveras County.

Rather than face a criminal trial, Kelly fled to Ireland. Despite having a warrant issued by Sacramento’s U.S. Attorney for unlawful flight, Kelly traveled to Morocco and Mexico – known sex trafficking destinations. Kelly also led at least one tour of Ireland for members of a group of followers from California called “Friends of Father Kelly,” according to depositions.

On Wednesday, Hampton sent a letter to State Attorney General Rob Bonta accusing California’s highest law enforcement official of failing to review adequately a decision by Calaveras County District Attorney to drop charges against Kelly when her son died in an accident in 2016.

Last Tuesday, Hampton testified before the California Assembly Public Safety Committee for a bill sponsored by Dawn Addis (D-San Luis Obispo) that would eliminate the statute of limitations for some sex crimes.

Assembly Bill 2295 would ultimately eliminate the statute of limitations for those who were sexually abused as children in California. Current law has a cutoff for criminal prosecution after an alleged victim reaches 40. The proposed law would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025, and only apply to cases where the statute of limitations had not expired.

In a bill fact sheet Addis says “because trauma affects survivors in a way that causes them to delay disclosure of their abuse until they are older, most survivors miss the deadline to seek justice. According to Child USA, the average age of individuals at the time of reporting child sex abuse is about 52 years old. It is an unacceptable tragedy that victims of abuse are unable to hold their abuser accountable simply because the law arbitrarily says their time to report has run out.”

Hampton told The Bee her pain would have been eased if other victims of Father Kelly could bring criminal complaints, including Travis Trotter, a former Air Force combat and Southwest Airline pilot. He won a civil suit in 2012.

Another alleged victim filed a lawsuit in 2022 accusing Kelly of abusing him in his capacity as a referee in a youth soccer league. Kelly helped found the Modesto Youth Soccer Association in the 1970’s. The complaint alleges that in 1979, Kelly abused the youth multiple times, leading to lifelong “anxiety, depression, flashbacks, sleep issues, suicidal ideations, anger, and loss of faith.”

Hampton said their cases should have been heard in criminal courts.


Hampton testified during the hearing that her son did not confront his abuser. But, she said, “it was only after Trevor’s attempted suicide that I learned about his abuse by Father Michael Kelly, a priest from the Stockton Diocese. Had I not learned about the abuse and pursued justice for my son, I truly don’t know if or when Trevor would have been ready to confront the priest.”

Opposition to the bill primarily comes from civil liberty and defendant rights organizations. According to the organization Uncommon Law, which filed an opposition brief, “existing law provides a statute of limitations which is much longer than normal to account for the fact that victims of sex crimes that occur when the victim is a child might not come to light until those victims are adults and are in a position to contact authorities regarding the crimes. This is already a substantial departure from the statute of limitations in other offenses and provides more than enough time to commence a prosecution.”

Despite that opposition, Addis said the bill has bipartisan support, especially after she added language aimed at ensuring defendant rights and mitigating prosecutions of cases without substantial evidence. The bill passed the Public Safety Committee 8-0 on Tuesday.


Sacramento resident Ann Breault Darling said in an interview she knows from first-hand experience how a person may need decades to muster the courage to confront sex abuse.

Breault Darling said she buried for years the memory of a priest who molested her beginning in 1966 at Our Lady of the Assumption in Sacramento when she was in 7th grade. Darling only decided to confront the issue after the passage of AB 218 in 2019. The legislation granted victims a three-year window for victims to seek recovery of civil damages from sexual abuse.

In 2020 she told her then 40-year-old son, Ben Darling, about the abuse and her intention to file a lawsuit. She said Ben said “mom, it happened to me. You sent us there too, monsignor got me.”

Her son, Breault Darling said, was abused by another now-deceased priest, Cornelius O’Connor, when he was 8. He also attended Our Lady of the Assumption in Sacramento during the 1980’s.

Ben Darling, his mother said, has struggled with mental illness and drug addiction for years and has been in and out of prison. He’s serving a year-long sentence at Avenal State Prison for probation violations related to drug and domestic violence charges. She attributes his struggles to the abuse, calling it a “trigger event.”

Ben Darling also filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Sacramento under the AB218 window.

In a phone interview from prison, Darling said that confronting the issue was “helping him deal” and he looks forward to getting out in a few months.

The Diocese of Sacramento declared bankruptcy on April 1 after more than 250 lawsuits were filed under AB 218. Last year Bishop Jaime Soto said in a letter to parishioners that the diocese faced a “staggering number” of AB 218 claims and hinted at the coming bankruptcy citing a “financial challenge … unlike anything we have faced before.”

In a news release announcing the bankruptcy, the Diocese of Sacramento said,” blame for the diocese’s current situation lies with those who committed sins against innocent victims and the failure of church leadership to appropriately address them.”

Soto stated in the same release, “Join me in praying for the healing of victim-survivors. The pain inflicted on them lasts a lifetime, and so our atonement must be a lifetime commitment.”

Breault Darling said diocese and Soto taking responsibility taking is a positive step.

“But the Vatican does not exactly have a great track record when it comes to policing itself,” she said. “That is why we need the safeguards of AB 2295. Because Catholics, all children deserve to be safe. Predators need to know they can never escape responsibility.”




Joe Rubin, an Emmy award-winning investigative reporter for The Sacramento Bee, unpacks complex systems with an eye toward holding power to account. Rubin’s reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR and Capital & Main has led to state laws protecting workers from lead poisoning and has exposed wasteful spending.