Beine Sex Case Has Officials Searching for Answer

By Robert Patrick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
April 27, 2005

The Missouri Supreme Court's decision overturning the conviction of an elementary school counselor and former Roman Catholic priest on sexual misconduct charges triggered quick responses by state and federal officials Wednesday.

The 4-3 decision in favor of James Beine, also known as Mar James, cleared him of charges he exposed himself to three Patrick Henry Elementary students during the 2000-2001 school year and declared unconstitutional the statute prohibiting sexual misconduct involving a child by indecent exposure.

The decision means Beine could be freed from the Farmington Correctional Facility in St. Francois County where he is incarcerated. A federal appeals court in December 2003 overturned Beine's separate conviction and 57-month prison sentence on a federal child pornography charge.

On Wednesday, however, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Massey said that federal prosecutors in Illinois would re-examine a charge of receiving child pornography that prosecutors dropped in 2003 after Beine was convicted on the federal charge in St. Louis.

Massey said that the statute of limitations had not yet expired on that charge. "I think it's fair to say that we will take a look at the file to see whether it's appropriate to do anything at this point or if it's even possible," Massey said.

The Missouri attorney general's office immediately moved to correct the statute that had been declared unconstitutional, spokesman Jim Gardner said Wednesday. "As soon as this was handed down, the discussion began."

The court, in a 4-3 decision, declared that the statute under which Beine was convicted was unconstitutionally broad and vague and could criminalize using a public bathroom.

Gardner said his office has been working on the changes with Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis.

"It's just a very important statute, and the safety of our children is at risk," Storch said Wednesday afternoon. "I think the Legislature does need to take immediate action," she said, predicting unanimous support from fellow lawmakers and passage within weeks.

Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Beine's teaching license was revoked based on his conviction, and the Supreme Court's decision may mean that Beine could get his license back.

"The state could seek revocation of his license again," Morris said, because the state uses a less strict standard of evidence than used in criminal court.

"We're not sure yet what the next steps are," Morris said.

As far as the St. Louis Public Schools are concerned, however, the system in 2002 paid $11,610 to obtain the resignation of the priest-turned-school counselor. The buyout occurred after then-Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. found the Archdiocese of St. Louis had settled two lawsuits in which Beine was accused of sexual abuse.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who has said she considers Beine a dangerous abuser of children, said Wednesday that her office was still deciding whether it could file additional charges. Those charges could stem from at least 36 complaints of sexual abuse Joyce's office has received from Beine's time as a priest, she said.

Joyce's office is barred from retrying him on sexual misconduct charges. St. Louis Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza said that the attorney general's office had 15 days to ask for another hearing. The Supreme Court waits until that time has expired before sending the mandate ordering Beine's acquittal, he said.

Gardner said his office was unlikely to appeal the court's decision.

"It is the Supreme Court, and that's pretty well the end of the line as far as any appeals," he said.

On Tuesday, Stephen Welby, one of Beine's lawyers, said, "It's a great day for him and his family.


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