Ex-Priest Rejects Plea Bargain in Sex-Assault Case

By Renee Winkler
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ)
September 18, 2004

A former Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a young boy almost a decade ago has rejected a plea offer that would cap a prison term at 10 years.

James F. Hopkins, 61, has until Oct. 22 to plead to charges filed against him in March 2003, under a ruling Friday by Superior Court Presiding Criminal Judge Linda Baxter.

Hopkins is charged with sexual assault and child endangerment offenses in 1995, while he served at parishes in Cherry Hill and Brooklawn.

Baxter told Hopkins and his attorney, Robert Rosenberg, that the 10-year sentence could make Hopkins eligible for parole after less than two years in prison. If convicted at trial, he could face a 20-year term on one of the counts and consecutive prison terms if convicted of assaults on other dates.

He is free on bail and has been returning to his home in Stuart, Fla., between court appearances.

Rosenberg said he is not sure if a psychiatric evaluation of Hopkins will be part of the defense strategy. Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Donna Spinosi said if Hopkins is convicted, any psychiatric or psychological evaluation her office ordered would not be used at trial, but only as part of sentencing preparations.

She said the state probably will call an expert to tell jurors why children who are abused hesitate to report the offense.

The family of Hopkins' alleged victim reported it to investigators in the Camden County Prosecutor's Office in 1999. The victim said he was 10 when Hopkins allegedly assaulted him in his home and in the parking lot of a convenience store.

The alleged victim is now 18 and attending school out of the state.

There is no statute of limitations on sexual assault charges involving children.


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