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Court upholds sex abuse conviction

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Kayla Bunge
July 21, 2010
— The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the sexual abuse conviction of Donald J. McGuire, a prominent Jesuit priest who insisted he was unfairly prosecuted on charges that he molested two boys in Fontana in the 1960s.

Justices in their 7-0 ruling said they were satisfied McGuire received a fair trial and that “justice has not miscarried for any reason.” They denied his multiple challenges to the conviction, most related to a 30-year gap between the acts and the filing of criminal charges.


McGuire is considered one of the most influential figures convicted in the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.


Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss was pleased with the decision.


“I’m incredibly grateful the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in our favor,” he said. “I was hopeful they would do that, but I certainly can’t say I expected a unanimous decision. It affirms we did right thing all along.”


Advocates for childhood victims of clergy sex abuse praised the court’s ruling.


Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said a ruling in favor of McGuire could have jeopardized the convictions of 20 clergy members who have been found guilty of decades-old sexual abuse in Wisconsin.


“That is an immediate victory for children and families in Wisconsin,” he said.


But attorney Robert Henak said the ruling was unfair to his client and sets a bad precedent. He said he would consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.


“If any one of us faced an allegation that was 35 to 40 years old … I don’t think any of us could have a fair trial,” he said. “Unfortunately for all of us, the Supreme Court disagrees.”


McGuire was convicted in 2006 on five counts of indecent behavior with a child after two men came forward in 2003 and said McGuire abused them during trips to a cottage in Fontana in 1967 and 1968.


The court was asked to decide whether the 36 years between the offenses and McGuire’s prosecution barred him from presenting a proper defense and having a fair trial.


McGuire argued that witnesses who would have helped him prove the men were lying were dead and key documents were no longer available. He said those included deceased priests who had lived in his residence, relatives of the boys and records that would have showed he did not check out a school car on the date of the trips.


McGuire argued his prosecution more than 30 years after the alleged crimes violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. He claimed a law that suspended the six-year statute of limitations because he was living outside of Wisconsin was unconstitutional as applied to him.


Justice David Prosser, who penned the court’s opinion Tuesday, rejected those arguments. He said McGuire offered no support for his claims that the dead witnesses and missing documents would have exonerated him.


“Without any indication of what the unavailable evidence would have demonstrated, we conclude that reversal is unwarranted because the real controversy was fully tried,” he wrote.


McGuire, now 80, was sentenced to seven years in prison but allowed to remain free during his appeal.


Federal prosecutors in Chicago in the meantime convicted him on charges of traveling outside the country and across state lines to have sex with a teenager. He is serving a 25-year prison sentence and is being held at a medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Mo. He is appealing that conviction, too.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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