Supreme Court Ruling Favoring Defrocked Priest Reverberating

By Jim Suhr
The Associated Press, carried in [St. Louis MO]
April 28, 2005

ST. LOUIS - Federal and St. Louis prosecutors are weighing additional sexual-misconduct charges against a defrocked priest who could soon be freed from prison. James Beine's attorney questioned the scrutiny, calling his client "a sacrificial lamb" in addressing sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy.

A Missouri Senate panel also took the first step Thursday in shoring up a statute the state's highest court narrowly deemed unconstitutionally broad two days earlier in scrapping the conviction of Beine, a former elementary school counselor also known as Mar James.

A U.S. appeals court already had thrown out Beine's federal conviction of possessing child pornography and the resulting prison sentence of nearly five years, ruling that investigators illegally seized key evidence.

It was unclear how soon Beine, 63, might be freed from the Farmington Correctional Center, where he has been serving a 12-year sentence on the St. Louis convictions in 2003. Generally, the state has 15 days from the opinion to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider, with the inmate remaining jailed until the state's intention is known.

Given Tuesday's 4-3 ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court, Beine also could apply for reinstatement of the state teaching certificate revoked after his St. Louis convictions on four felony sexual misconduct counts, a spokesman for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said.

The state's high court ruled there was insufficient evidence to prove that Beine, a counselor at St. Louis' Patrick Henry Elementary School during the 2000-2001 school year, committed wrongdoing when he urinated in a school bathroom in front of three male students. The boys were in the third and fourth grades when Beine allegedly exposed himself.

To commit sexual misconduct by indecent exposure, Missouri law requires that the genital exposure was done "in a manner that would cause a reasonable adult to believe that the conduct is likely to cause affront or alarm to a child less than 14 years old."

The court's majority opinion, written by special Judge Charles Blackmar, stated there was no evidence Beine's urinating in front of the boys caused them to suffer "affront" or "alarm."

Blackmar also called the statute "patently unconstitutional" and too broad because any man using a bathroom in front of children younger than age 14 could be charged with sexual misconduct. He said the law fails to consider someone's intent and "leaves adults in a state of uncertainty about how they may take care of their biological needs without danger of prosecution when a child is present in the same public restroom."

On Thursday, the state Senate's Judiciary, Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously approved a bill to clarify that people commit sexual misconduct when knowing their exposure would cause a reasonable adult to believe the action causes affront or alarm to a child under age 14.

Beine was dismissed from the priesthood in 1977 over allegations of sexual abuse, and in the mid-1990s the Archdiocese of St. Louis paid $110,000 to settle two lawsuits that alleged Beine sexually abused boys more than three decades earlier.

Jennifer Joyce, St. Louis' prosecutor, told media outlets this week that her office was deciding whether it could file additional charges related to dozens of complaints of sexual abuse it fielded from Beine's years as a priest. City prosecutors are barred from retrying the thrown-out charges.

Joyce, who in 2002 called Beine "one of the most serious predators I have ever dealt with in my years as prosecutor," was in meetings and unreachable Thursday, her office said.

Ed Postawko, head of the office's sex crimes child abuse unit, said he couldn't go into detail but offered: "We are trying to see if anything can possibly be charged. We had 36 complaints against him in the past."

He said he is concerned that once Beine is released, it will be difficult to find him again.

Randy Massey, a federal prosecutor in neighboring Illinois, where Beine had lived in Highland, said "we are looking at the file to make a determination whether anything can be charged" anew against Beine.

Lawrence Fleming, Beine's attorney, stopped short of calling efforts to further charge his client harassment, saying Joyce likely would have charged Beine with something well before now if she had evidence to back it.

"But she elected to charge him with basically urinating in a boys' bathroom and standing too far from a urinal," Fleming said, adding that Beine's trial came at the same time America's Catholic bishops meeting here, partly to discuss sexual abuse by clergy.

"Beine was made somewhat of a sacrificial lamb during a time of intense media coverage of priest sex abuse," Fleming said.