Jury Selection Opens in Catholic Priest's Sexual Abuse Trial

By Robert Patrick
Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
August 29, 2005

The criminal prosecution of a Catholic priest charged with performing oral sex on a teenage boy in the Old Cathedral more than 25 years ago started Monday in St. Louis Circuit Court.

The prosecution of the Rev. Thomas Graham, 71, is being seen by some Missouri prosecutors as the test case that will determine if they can pursue decades-old sex charges.

Graham is being prosecuted under a 1969 law that did not provide a statute of limitations for "abominable and detestable crimes against nature."

If convicted of sodomy, Graham could face up to life in prison.

Graham has maintained his innocence since the allegations surfaced in 1994, according to a statement released Monday by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

That statement says the archdiocese investigated the allegation and "based on available information, did not find it to be substantiated."

Graham has been removed from the active ministry and is in a "monitored residential setting," the archdiocese said.

Graham's lawyer, Christian Goeke, declined to comment outside the courtroom Monday.

A grand jury indicted Graham in December 2002, but his lawyers challenged prosecutors' ability to use the old statute.

Last summer, the Missouri Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned a lower judge's decision throwing out the case.

The Missouri Supreme Court declined to review the case in December, allowing the prosecution to proceed.

Goeke again tried unsuccessfully in June, arguing that under a Missouri Supreme Court decision that freed a former Catholic priest, the statute being used to prosecute Graham was so vague and overbroad that it could criminalize innocent conduct.

During jury selection Monday, prospective jurors were questioned about a variety of topics, including whether they were Catholic and whether they had been affected by sexual abuse.

About one-third of the 60 jurors said they or someone they knew had reported sexual abuse.

"I wouldn't be able to even hear it," one woman said of the case.

Several more said they had left the Catholic Church, one mentioning what she called the church's hypocrisy.

Another said she came from a family of priests and nuns and couldn't be fair.

More than one prospective juror voiced doubts after prosecutor Ed Postawko told them that witness testimony would be the crux of the case. He asked if having no physical evidence and only one witness alleging the decades-old act would affect jurors' decision-making.

"I would have a hard time," one man said. "Why now?"

Graham and Goeke smiled when one prospective juror entered the courtroom Monday morning - a Catholic priest wearing a Roman collar.

He was not chosen for the jury. In an emotional response to questions, he said he had met with many children who had been abused.

Graham appeared in court in a black suit and a burgundy shirt buttoned to the collar, and he appeared relaxed when chatting with supporters before the day began.

Bishops around the country have been asked not to allow priests to wear clerical garb when facing criminal charges of sexually abusing a minor, the archdiocese said.


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