Wis. Court Allows Old Clergy Abuse Prosecutions

Associated Press, carried in Minneapolis Star Tribune
June 26, 2008

MADISON, Wis. - Clergy can be prosecuted for decades-old sexual abuse if they left Wisconsin before a six-year statute of limitations expired, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

One victim's advocacy group said the decision strengthens the convictions of a dozen religious workers already serving prison time and the prosecutions of three others can move forward.

The group, Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, said the decision also should put pressure on bishops to give prosecutors records about abusive priests transferred to other states.

The decision came in an appeal brought by the Rev. Bruce Duncan MacArthur, who was charged in 2006 with sexually assaulting girls who were patients at a Beaver Dam hospital where he was a chaplain between 1965 and 1972.

MacArthur, 86, argued he could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations expired. He was arrested in Missouri and extradited to Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a six-year statute of limitations is in effect for all crimes that happened before 1989, when the law was changed. But it said the clock stops ticking when someone no longer lives in Wisconsin.

Prosecutors can bring decades-old assault cases, Justice Annette Ziegler wrote, as long as they prove to a judge the defendants were living elsewhere and the statute of limitations has not expired.

"If they leave, there's still time in that statute to prosecute. There's a lot of very live cases now," said Peter Isely, the Midwest director for the advocacy group. "As long as you have the evidence, witnesses and proof, you can bring a case."

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which represented prosecutors, said it was pleased the court accepted its arguments. MacArthur's attorney did not immediately return a phone message.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the decision would help prosecute certain offenders but undermine cases against others who stayed in the state.


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