All 224 sex-abuse charges against ex-priest dismissed
Prosecutors call interpretation of law 'hypertechnical' as defense attorneys seek his release.

March 15, 2002

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A California judge dismissed all 224 sex-molestation charges against a defrocked San Francisco priest Thursday in a ruling that prosecutors said was based on a "hypertechnical interpretation" of state law.

The decision, unless overturned on appeal, means San Francisco County prosecutors cannot try Monsignor Patrick O'Shea, 67, on charges of molesting nine boys in the 1960s and '70s.

The dismissal comes amid a wave of sexual-abuse allegations against priests nationally. Former Boston-area priest John Geoghan was sentenced to a maximum 10-year prison term last month for groping a 10-year-old boy, and has been accused of molesting more than 130 children in six parishes.

Law enforcement officials are probing whether to investigate alleged sexual-abuse cases involving Catholic priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. And in Santa Rosa, inactive priest Donald Kimball, 58, is standing trial for charges he raped a 14-year-old female parishioner and molested a 13-year-old girl.

Meanwhile, the O'Shea case has zigzagged through the court system since its filing in 1995, a year after the California Legislature approved a law allowing prosecutors to file molestation charges even after the six-year statute of limitations expired.

Prosecutors did so in this case, but a state appeals court dismissed it in 1997, saying the law did not apply retroactively. State lawmakers then reworked the legislation to make it retroactive and to let prosecutors refile past charges if they first were filed under the 1994 law.

But Superior Court Judge David Garcia, citing a January decision from the California Supreme Court on a different sex-abuse case, said prosecutors could not refile the charges because an appeals court had dismissed them.

"It's a terrible thing," said prosecutor Linda Klee, who said Garcia's decision was based on a "hypertechnical interpretation of the law."

Wayne Presley, one of the men O'Shea was accused of molesting when he was an altar boy, was shaken by the judge's ruling.

"I'm upset. He's an evil man," Presley, 43, said of O'Shea. "I don't know whether I'll ever recover from it emotionally, financially and physically."

Defense attorneys said they would immediately seek O'Shea's release from San Francisco jail.

Most of the boys attended San Francisco parochial schools and were altar boys where O'Shea worked. He performed the marriage ceremony for one of the victim's parents, according to court records.