Priest Faces Life in Prison

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

The Rev. Thomas Graham was found guilty of a decades-old sodomy charge by a St. Louis jury Wednesday afternoon, meaning the 71-year-old now faces up to life in prison.

When Circuit Judge Angela Turner Quigless read the verdict, Graham showed little response. Several of the group of Graham's friends, family and parishioners that had been in court all week hung their heads.

The victim's family cried and hugged each other.

Jurors deliberated a little over two hours before finding Graham guilty.

Jurors will now hear additional testimony before they recommend a punishment. Graham, 71, could face up to life in prison.

During the trial, Graham's lawyer, Christian Goeke, had challenged inconsistencies in the victim's testimony and statements to police and in a civil deposition.

"He's human," Postawko said of the victim, who is now 43.

Postawko said Graham was relying on the passage of time "to be his shield on this."

In his closing statement Wednesday morning, prosecutor Ed Postawko told jurors that Graham betrayed the trust in which he was held by the victim and his family.

The Graham prosecution has been seen by some Missouri prosecutors as a test case to see whether decades-old sex abuse cases can be prosecuted under a quirk in the law.

St. Louis prosecutors used a 1969 law that has no statute of limitations for "abominable and detestable crimes against nature."

The legislature changed the statute in 1979, meaning only alleged crimes that occurred during that period can be prosecuted.

In December, the lawyer that helped handle Graham's appeal of prosecutors ability to use the old law predicted that cases could be filed in jurisdictions across the state.

But Postawko cautioned at the time that he did not expect "dozens and dozens of cases." The victim in this case had sued Graham twice before, in 1996 and 1999, but dropped both suits and can't re-file.

The St. Louis Archdiocese investigated the allegation in 1994 and "based on available information, did not find it to be substantiated," according to a statement released Monday. A spokesman said officials were preparing a statement in response to the verdict.

Graham still faces a civil suit filed by an Arizona man in St. Louis in mid-August claiming that Graham fondled him in the faculty lounge in St. Mary's Parish in Bridgeton in the fall of 1967 or 1968.