Molester Priest in Court
the Rev. John Banko Pleads Not Guilty. He's Already Been Convicted of Assault on Another Preteen
By Tom Quigley
November 4, 2006
Flemington - A convicted child molester still holding the title of a Roman Catholic priest pleaded not guilty Friday to sexually assaulting another child.
The Rev. John Banko is serving a 15-year sentence in the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, N.J., after a 2002 conviction.
The former pastor of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Milford was found guilty of molesting an 11-year-old St. Edward's altar boy in 1993.
A Hunterdon County grand jury in September indicted Banko in a separate case that involved the sexual assault of a child under the age of 13.
The priest stood before Superior Court Judge Roger F. Mahon in shackles and prison garb with his head slightly bowed.
The perfunctory proceeding included a brief discussion about discovery issues. The priest is due back in court at 10 a.m. on Dec. 1. Discovery is when the state and the defense exchange information, documents and other potential evidence.
Defense attorney David Hamilton handed Banko a note with the attorney's contact numbers.
"Thank you very much," the priest said.
Sheriff's officers then escorted him the Hunterdon County Courthouse.
After court, Hamilton said the state Public Defender's Office in Hunterdon County is in the process of deciding which attorney will represent Banko.
Meanwhile, Hamilton said the office is awaiting word on any plea offers the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office may make.
Diocese of Metuchen spokeswoman Joann Ward said Banko is prohibited from any ministry work and reiterated statements by Monsignor William Benwell, vicar general of the diocese, in September.
"If he's convicted of this as well, the diocese may seek the final step," Benwell said at the time.
The vicar general said Banko could do no harm to anyone since he's incarcerated.
Ward said it's a long process to defrock a priest and requires approval from the Vatican.
Reporter Tom Quigley can be reached at 908-475-8184 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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