Ex-Priest Opts for Trial in Sex Case

By Brandon Lausch
Home News Tribune
June 30, 2007

Flemington — John M. Banko, the former Milford priest convicted in 2002 of molesting an altar boy, will let a jury decide whether he is guilty of similar charges during an upcoming trial set to begin Nov. 5.

Banko, 61, was indicted last year on one count of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and one count of second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.

Prosecutors claim Banko sexually assaulted a child younger than 16 from Sept. 1, 1994 to May 15, 1995. The indictment came after the Diocese of Metuchen referred allegations it had received to the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office. The diocese serves parishes in Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties.

Banko, who is serving 15 years at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, pleaded not guilty last November to the charges.

Known to parishioners as "Father Jack," Banko was convicted in December 2002 of molesting a former altar boy from September 1993 to September 1994 after Mass at St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church in Milford. Banko maintained his innocence during the trial.

By opting to again head to trial, Banko confirmed to prosecutors and state Superior Court Judge Roger F. Mahon, sitting in Flemington, that he would reject a plea bargain.

Under the terms of the deal offered by Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Solari, the state would have reduced the first-degree aggravated sexual assault charge to a second-degree offense and would have dismissed the second-degree endangering the welfare of a child charge.

According to the deal, Banko's guilty plea would have kept him in jail for an additional nine years. By giving the case to a jury, Banko could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Officials said the trial is expected to last from two to three weeks.


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