Judge Rules Szantyr Still Incompetent

By Gary V. Murray
Telegram & Gazette
May 10, 2008

WORCESTER— A retired Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting two altar boys in the 1980s has, for a second time, been deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Judge David Ricciardone found the Rev. John J. Szantyr incompetent in a 12-page ruling issued yesterday in Central District Court. The 76-year-old retired priest, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, is charged with indecently assaulting two altar boys more than 20 years ago.

The sexual assaults allegedly occurred when the Rev. Szantyr, who now lives in Waterbury, Conn., was assigned to Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish on Ward Street. The charges, to which Rev. Szantyr has pleaded not guilty, were lodged in 2003. In 2006, Judge Dennis J. Brennan, since retired, also found the Rev. Szantyr mentally incompetent to stand trial.

The second competency hearing came after a psychiatrist hired by the prosecution evaluated the Rev. Szantyr and found him competent to stand trial. Assistant District Attorney Joseph J. Reilly 3rd has said he requested the evaluation by psychiatrist Malcolm P. Rogers, based on information brought to the prosecutor's attention by people who said they had had dealings with the Rev. Szantyr as recently as 2006 as part of group called Seeds of Hope.

Dr. Rogers testified last month during the two-day hearing before Judge Ricciardone that, although Rev. Szantyr had suffered some cognitive impairment as a result of his Parkinson's disease, he had a rational understanding of the legal process and the ability to assist his lawyer, Edward P. Ryan Jr., in his defense.

In his ruling, Judge Ricciardone said he did not find Dr. Rogers' opinion persuasive.

The judge noted that Dr. Rogers' actual contact with Rev. Szantyr was limited to a two-hour meeting nine months ago, and the psychiatrist did not order diagnostic tests to measure any increase in brain atrophy, which had previously been found to exist.

The judge said a "mini mental status examination" relied upon by Dr. Rogers in forming his opinion "can hardly be thought of as exhaustive.

"It is difficult to believe that an eleven-question test constitutes the state of the art diagnostic procedure upon which to base the weighty determination involved here," Judge Ricciardone wrote.

The Rev. Szantyr's brother, Paul T. Szantyr, testified at the hearing that his sibling could no longer feed himself, shave, cook, drive or do housework, and had essentially lost the ability to carry on a conversation. A visiting nurse, who said she assisted the Rev. Szantyr as recently as January, described him as being "in a fog."

Judge Ricciardone said in a footnote to his ruling that he was assigning their testimony "only minimal weight," focusing instead on "any medical science going to the defendant's competency."

The judge's conclusion was that the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the Rev. Szantyr was competent to stand trial.

Mr. Reilly told Judge Ricciardone yesterday he wanted to review the ruling and asked that the case be continued to July 28 for a status report. The judge granted the request.

Mr. Ryan said the finding of incompetence meant the criminal case against his client was "automatically stayed, unless dismissed."

The judge's ruling angered one of the Rev. Szantyr's alleged victims, Michael Chesnis, who asked that his name be used.

"I am disheartened, distressed, confused and irate that Mr. Szantyr has escaped prosecution. I feel that the justice system has let me down severely," said Mr. Chesnis, 33. He said he went to the Rev. Szantyr's Waterbury home in 2003, hoping to get an apology from the retired priest but received none.

"The judge carefully listened to all the evidence, and I think he made the absolutely correct decision," Mr. Ryan said. "John Szantyr's condition, sorrily, is only going to get worse."

Contact: May 10, 2008


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