Former Priest Convicted of Molesting South Tucson Boy in 1980s

Associated Press
March 28, 2003

A former priest was convicted of molesting a South Tucson boy in the early 1980s, although he didn't show up for his trial.

Prosecutors said the Rev. Thomas P. Purcell, who once worked as a visiting priest in the Diocese of Tucson, is now considered a fugitive.

On Tuesday, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Purcell, whose last known residence was in Bullhead City.

Purcell's defense attorney, Leo Plowman, didn't return a phone message Friday to The Associated Press.

Jurors convicted the 61-year-old Purcell on Thursday of three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor.

"I hope it gives other victims of priest molestation the courage to come forward because when we can prosecute a case, we will prosecute a case," said Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer.

Under the law at the time of the incidents, Purcell faces between five and 14 years in prison on each count - a total of 42 years. If he were convicted of committing the same crimes today, he would face 15 to 27 years in prison on each count.

Purcell worked at churches in Tucson and Nogales between 1982 and 1984. He hasn't worked in Tucson since 1984.

The convictions were related to a sexual relationship he had with a 13-year-old boy for nearly two years between January 1982 and December 1983. The victim, now 33, told South Tucson police in May that Purcell molested him in a church rectory and in the victim's South Tucson home.

The man's name is being withheld because he is a sexual assault victim.

"I don't think the diocese has any position on the trial other than it expects the course of criminal justice to take place. And certainly the diocese has expressed interest in providing counseling support to the victim," diocese spokesman Fred Allison said.

Diocese officials said Purcell was never a diocesan priest; rather, he was a religious order priest with the Society of Mary.


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