Jury Wants Priest Jailed for 20 Years

By Robert Patrick and Peter Shinkle
Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
August 31, 2005

Jurors in St. Louis Circuit Court today recommended a sentence of 20 years for a priest who was convicted of sodomizing a boy in the Old Cathedral downtown in the 1970s.

Judge Angela Turner Quigless set a formal sentencing date of Oct. 6 for the Rev. Thomas Graham, 71. She did not indicate whether she planned to follow the jury's recommendation on sentencing.

Our earlier story:

Jurors who convicted the Rev. Thomas Graham on Wednesday of sodomizing a boy in the Old Cathedral downtown in the 1970s, then heard new accusations against him as the penalty phase of the trial began.

St. Louis prosecutors presented testimony of a man and woman who claimed that Graham molested them years ago as well. Jurors will weigh their stories in deciding proper punishment for Graham, 71. He could face from two years to life in prison. The sentencing hearing continues today.

The defense fought hard to prevent the case from reaching trial, arguing all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court that prosecutors stretched an outdated law to circumvent a statute of limitations. Graham was convicted under a 1969 sodomy statute, significantly modified 10 years later, that had contained no deadline for prosecution.

Officials in several jurisdictions regarded this case as a test of whether the old law could be used against clergy accused of crimes from many years before.

Graham showed little emotion as Circuit Judge Angela Turner Quigless read the verdict. Some in a group of Graham's friends, family and parishioners, who had been in court all week, hung their heads.

Relatives of the accuser, now 43, cried and hugged each other. "I feel wonderful. Justice has been done, and it is a safer world," said his sister. Graham was indicted in 2002 on a charge that he committed sodomy when the accuser was a teenager, sometime from 1975 to 1978. The victim testified Tuesday that Graham took him to a bedroom in the rectory and performed oral sex on him on numerous occasions.

Graham took the witness stand in his own defense, denying the allegations and asserting that the victim was upset because they had a falling out over the man's homosexuality.

In his closing statement Wednesday morning, prosecutor Ed Postawko told jurors that Graham betrayed the trust of the victim and his family.

Missouri law gives the jury a voice in sentencing a first-time felon. It was in that part of the trial that two new witnesses alleged sexual abuse by Graham and other priests.

One, a 53-year-old woman who grew up in Ferguson, said she was attending Good Shepherd Parish School in about third grade when Graham attacked her in the church rectory. "My earliest memory of him is his sodomizing me," she testified.

Explaining why she never told anyone at the time, she said a priest "was God," particularly in those days. "He's never acknowledged his guilt," she said.

When defense attorney Christian Goeke questioned her, she acknowledged that she had "buried" her memories of the incident until about three years ago, and that they resurfaced when she saw a man who looked like Graham.

Under further questioning by Goeke, she said she also had been raped by two other priests, and that on one of those occasions a nun held her down and slapped her while one of those other priests raped her. When Goeke questioned whether a nun assisted in the rape, the witness replied, "The nuns were mean at Good Shepherd." The other witness, a man employed by Laclede Gas, said that when he was at St. Mary's School in Bridgeton, Graham took him for outings, and typically had him sit on his lap and steer as Graham drove the car. Then Graham would unzip his pants and play with his genitals, the witness said, choking back tears.

"You have haunted me," he called across the court to Graham. "Don't you look at me like that, Father. ... You're a bad, evil person." The testimony matched that of the man whose claim was the basis of the charge.

He had told the jury that Graham took him on outings to a horse farm and that Graham had him sit on his lap and steer while fondling him.

Outside the courtroom, Kathy Lang, a supporter of Graham's, fumed. "This is a sham and a breakdown of the court system," she complained.

"It's very interesting how a sliver of truth can sway individuals who have limited critical thinking and less than all of the facts to make a judgment that is not correct."

The man Graham was convicted of molesting sued the priest twice, in 1996 and 1999, but dropped both cases and cannot refile them. Graham still faces a civil suit filed in St. Louis in mid-August by an Arizona man, claiming that Graham fondled him in the faculty lounge in St. Mary's Parish in Bridgeton in the fall of 1967 or 1968.

The St. Louis Archdiocese issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "We pray for the individual who brought the complaint to the civil authorities. May God grant him healing and peace now and in the future. We pray also for Father Graham."

Other priests have been convicted in molestation cases here.

The Rev. Bryan Kuchar was sentenced to three consecutive one-year terms in the St. Louis County Jail after a jury found him guilty of molesting a 14-year-old boy in 1995, while Kuchar was serving at Assumption Catholic Church in south St. Louis County. The trial was Kuchar's second, after an earlier jury deadlocked.

Another local priest, the Rev. Gary P. Wolken, is serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in 2002 to charges of statutory sodomy and child molestation. The crimes were committed while he baby-sat for friends in Ballwin.