Harges Dropped in Novato Molest Case

By Con Garretson
Marin Independent Journal
July 2, 2003

A child molestation case against a Catholic priest was dismissed in Marin Superior Court yesterday as a result of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared as unconstitutional the law that allowed his prosecution.

Invalidation of the law that provided for the extension of the statute of limitations in some sex offense cases is expected to lead to the dismissal today of charges against three other Marin men, including one current and one former priest The Rev. Milton Walsh appeared briefly yesterday before Judge William McGivern who, without comment, granted a prosecution motion to dismiss the two felony counts of molesting a child under age 14 that he had been charged with last October.

Walsh had originally been scheduled to appear in court yesterday to set a trial date after the judge last month determined there was enough evidence for a trial on allegations that he repeatedly fondled a pre-teen altar boy during a visit to his former Novato parish in the summer of 1984. During the June preliminary hearing, a phone conversation between Walsh and the former altar boy was played in court in which the priest acknowledged the abuse.

The law overturned by the nation's highest court had allowed criminal charges in cases where allegations of "substantial sexual conduct" could be corroborated and filed within a year of the allegations being reported to police.

In the past year, Marin prosecutors had used the law to file child molest cases against six men, five of whom were accused of committing abuse while working as priests.

The names of the five church-associated defendants were among less than 10 that had been released to Marin prosecutors by the San Francisco Archdiocese in light of the national sex scandal involving members of the clergy.

Charges were expected to be dismissed today by Judge Verna Adams for: - Guy Murnig, 59, of Petaluma, who left the priesthood to marry a former student. He had been charged last October with repeatedly molesting a teen-age girl 30 years ago who he met through the Teen Club of St. Sebastian's Church in Greenbrae at a time he taught at Marin Catholic High School.

- The Rev. Jerome Paul Leach, 52, of Corte Madera, who had been awaiting a preliminary hearing on charges he sexually abused a 12-year-old altar boy over 10 months during the five years he was assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Larkspur in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

- Robert Edward Fleak, 75, of Rohnert Park, who pleaded guilty to three felony counts of committing a lewd and lascivious act upon a child under the age of 14 and one count of sodomy of a person under age 18, charges that could have carried a maximum 15-year prison sentence at a hearing that was to be held this month.

Assistant District Attorney Ed Berberian said dismissal hearings have not yet been scheduled for two other priests - the Rev. Arthur Harrison and the Rev. Gregory Ingels - who were charged more recently .

Harrison, 72, of Brookdale in Santa Cruz County, was charged in May with molesting a 10-year-old girl in 1961 while he served at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Novato.

Ingels, 60, of Menlo Park, was charged with molesting a 15-year-old Marin Cath-olic High School student 30 years ago while he taught at the Kentfield campus. Ingels, who is also a lawyer, co-wrote a guide for church leaders about disciplining sexually abusive priests.


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