Man Accused in 2003 Murder Of Ex-Priest Pleads Guilty

Lex 18 [Lexington KY]
September 29, 2005

The man accused of killing a retired priest who was also a convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to the crime in a Lexington courtroom Thursday.

Jason Anthony Russell, 26, admitted killing Joseph Pilger, 78, who was found dead in his Lexington home in December 2003. The Fayette County Coroner's office ruled Pilger died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries.

Russell, convicted in July 1997 of robbery and criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, had finished a prison sentence just two months before the killing, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said.

Pilger pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in 1995 for abusing three brothers and their cousin in 1968 and 1969, when he was their pastor in Morganfield in western Kentucky. The victims were younger than 15 and serving as altar boys at the parish.

After a plea bargain, Pilger received five years' probation beginning in January 1995.

In 2003, Pilger was listed in a sex-abuse lawsuit against the dioceses of Lexington and Covington. In the suit, Dan Willett, now 57 and living in Orlando, Fla., claimed he was abused by Pilger in the late 1950s at St. Paul's School in Lexington. The suit was settled.


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