Feeney's Defense 'Intrigues' Court
By John Lee
October 9, 2002
APPLETON -- A former Catholic priest arrested on child sexual abuse charges could be released from jail while his attorneys argue that the statute of limitations has long since expired.
The attorney for John P. Feeney also claimed Tuesday that the charges should be dismissed on alleged 1978 incidents because then-Dist. Atty. David Prosser, now a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, decided against filing charges 24 years ago.
Cash bond for Feeney was reduced from $400,000 to $100,000 by Outagamie County Court Commissioner Brian Figy, even though he termed the former cleric "basically a rogue priest who preys upon children." He faces 35 years in prison.
While Figy said the 75-year-old Feeney, who has lived mostly in California since leaving Wisconsin in 1983, has ties that are "tenuous at best" to the state and the Fox Valley, he said the charges filed last month by Outagamie County Dist. Atty. Vince Biskupic are "quite dated."
Figy also cited Feeney's lack of any prior convictions, and he said defense attorney Gerald P. Boyle's arguments about the statute of limitations "are quite intriguing."
As a condition of bond, Feeney was ordered to have no contact with victims named in the criminal complaint. He must also surrender his passport and may not leave Wisconsin.
Boyle, of Milwaukee, said he expects someone to post Feeney's bond.
Boyle said he has had several calls from people who want to help the former priest. He said one caller from Sheboygan offered an apartment to Feeney.
"There is not a chance in the world he is going to run," Boyle told Figy.
"This is not a situation where he was running away from this jurisdiction."
The reduction was opposed by Deputy Dist. Atty. Carrie Schneider, who said circumstances have not changed since a $400,000 bond was set and a criminal complaint was filed while Feeney lived in Los Angeles.
Another hearing will be scheduled before Figy, probably for early next week, after Schneider was given time to file information opposing Boyle's motion that charges be dismissed because the statute of limitations has expired.
Prosecutors said Feeney left the state in 1983, about six months before the six-year statute of limitations expired on the allegations, suspending the clock.
Boyle said the legislative intent of the statute of limitations law applies to cases where a suspect leaves the state and his whereabouts are unknown.
Feeney was not hiding, Boyle said. He returned to Wisconsin during that time and was receiving a pension check from the Diocese of Green Bay.
He asked that the statute of limitation questions be heard before the case proceeds.
"This goes to the very heart of the charges," he said.
The fact that he was receiving retirement checks from the diocese does not change the fact that Feeney's residency was out-of-state, and a review of the case by a former district attorney "does not preclude a future district attorney from reviewing it," Schneider said.
"There has to be some finality to these things," Boyle said. "There was finality with this" when Prosser decided not to prosecute.
"Nobody in this country should have to wait 24 years to answer charges," he said.
"Obviously, this matter will be argued long and hard," Boyle said. "If we like it or not, (the decision not to prosecute) happened."
Feeney is charged with two counts of attempted second-degree sexual assault and one count of sexual assault of a child, stemming from incidents during his time as pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Freedom.
A special report in dcIdc The Post-Crescent, dc/Idc published last May, detailed how Feeney was moved 14 times in 14 years during his stint with the Green Bay Diocese. In all, he served at 18 parishes in the diocese between his June 1952 ordination and before moving to California in 1983.
Boyle told reporters after the hearing that Feeney has shown no signs of depression during the ordeal and has helped attorneys representing him.
"He's terrific to represent," Boyle said. "He's handling it very, very well."
He said he would make sure the apartment in Sheboygan is set before Feeney is released.
"I don't want a media uproar" from neighbors, he said.
Boyle said he has had several calls offering to help Feeney. He said he will now see if someone will post the bond.
"He is 75 years old and nobody expects to end their life the way he will end his," Boyle said.
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