Jury finds ex-priest fondled girl Alleged victims crowd courtroom

December 12, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ex-Roman Catholic priest James R. Porter, suspected of sexually abusing dozens of children in three states was found guilty yesterday of molesting a 15-year-old baby sitter in 1987.

The now-21-year-old woman wept as the verdict was announced in a courtroom crowded with some Porter's alleged victims while was a priest in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico, (( beginning in the 1960s.

"I got what I wanted," said the woman, identified only by her first name, Sara. "I know he needs help. He's a sick man."

The woman's older sister -- who also testified that she was abused by Porter as a family baby sitter -- sobbed next to her.

Porter, 57, was convicted of six counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving the woman, who said Porter forced her into sexual contact three times in his home in Oakdale, a St. Paul suburb.

Washington County District Judge Kenneth Maas allowed Porter remain free in lieu of $1,000 bail, awaiting a Jan. 28 sentencing.

As a first-time offender who committed a relatively minor sex crime, Porter could face only probation under state guidelines. However, Judge Maas could also depart from the guidelines and sentence Porter to a maximum of 15 years in prison and fine him $15,000.

In Minnesota, a possible reason for departure is an offender's inability to benefit from psychological treatment. Porter's alleged victims say he fits the category.

Porter showed no emotion when the verdict was read following a 2 1/2 -day trial and three days of deliberations by a jury of seven women and five men.

His attorney, Paul Lukas, later said his client was "obviously very upset, very disappointed, very distraught." Mr. Lukas said said he was considering an appeal based on what he said were prejudicial statements by prosecutors.

Frank Fitzpatrick, who played a pivotal role in bringing Porter to trial in Minnesota, clasped hands with his wife and kissed her.

"This is the biggest thing that's happened so far, and this is what we've all been working for all this time. This is my Christmas gift," said Mr. Fitzpatrick, of Rhode Island.

"Justice was done," said Mr. Fitzpatrick, who alleges he was abused by Porter in the 1960s, when Porter served as a priest in Massachusetts.

At the same time, Mr. Fitzpatrick said the verdict was only "a start" in a continuing campaign to reform the Catholic Church and sex-abuse laws, and to bring Porter to justice.

Mr. Fitzpatrick's dogged pursuit of Porter in the last three years prompted scores of victims, including the former Oakdale baby sitter, to come forward with allegations of abuse.

Porter is awaiting trial on 46 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving 32 people in Massachusetts. But Porter's constitutional challenge to the Massachusetts statute of limitations has heightened the importance of the Minnesota conviction.

Porter left Massachusetts for treatment of pedophilia in New Mexico, then was reassigned in 1969 to St. Philip's Catholic Church in Bemidji, Minn. He left the priesthood in 1974 and married and moved to Oakdale in 1976.

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