Judge Refuses to Toss Sodomy Charge against Priest

Associated Press, carried in The Kansas City Star [St. Louis MO]
July 21, 2005

ST. LOUIS - Three years after being charged with sodomizing a teenage boy in the late 1970s, a St. Louis Catholic priest may be heading to court.

Circuit Judge Donald McCullin on Wednesday refused to dismiss the felony count of forcible sodomy against the Rev. Thomas Graham.

The charge has led to pleadings all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court on whether the statute of limitations bars a charge filed so late. The state Supreme Court in December upheld an appeals court decision that it does not.

The case is widely seen by Missouri prosecutors as a test to see how well the sodomy charge can be used to convict child molesters decades after their alleged crimes. Standard child molestation laws require charges to be filed relatively quickly.

Graham, 70, is accused of performing oral sex on a boy in his early teens at the rectory of St. Louis' Old Cathedral. The charge says it happened between mid-January 1975 and the end of 1978.

His defense attorneys argued last month that the sodomy charge should be dismissed after the Missouri Supreme Court issued a ruling earlier this year that freed former public school counselor James Beine from prison by overturning his conviction for indecent exposure. The justices said Beine was convicted under a statute that was too broad.

Graham's attorney, Christian Goeke, pointed out that anyone engaging in oral sex before 1979 could be charged with sodomy, meaning that the Beine decision should allow Graham to contest the constitutionality of the sodomy law as overly broad.

McCullin, however, disagreed.

"Performing oral sex on a minor cannot be said to involve any free speech or other fundamental constitutional right, and is not even arguably innocent conduct within the meaning of (the decision on) Beine," McCullin wrote.

He added that the sodomy law isn't vague and that the state Supreme Court has upheld its constitutionality on 20 occasions.

McCullin said he'll now schedule a trial date.

Goeke said he probably can't appeal McCullin's decision until after Graham's trial.

He said that while Graham wants a chance to fight the charges in court, "it was necessary that we at least pursue this avenue."


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