Suspended priest released early from sentence

Carroll clergyman admitted child abuse

October 31, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A suspended Carroll County priest who admitted molesting two boys was released from jail yesterday after serving a little more than nine months of a 15-month sentence.

Brian M. Cox left the Carroll County Detention Center yesterday, not long after a judge agreed to his request for an early release.

Explaining why he granted the request, Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway said that Cox's conduct was "not to be tolerated" but that he had been adequately punished and holds the potential to do more good outside of jail than in it.

"In my short time on the bench, this is probably the case that has caused me to do more soul-searching in fashioning a sentence than any other," Galloway said in court. "I believe the defendant will contribute to society and to the community by doing the things he's apparently done for much of his life."

Cox, 64, who was associate pastor of St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster 20 years ago, pleaded guilty last October to two counts of felony child abuse.

In January, Galloway imposed consecutive, four-year sentences for each of two convictions for child abuse but suspended all but 15 months. The judge also said that Cox could apply to have his sentence reduced to home detention after serving half of that time.

Under the terms of his sentencing, Cox is to be placed on five years' probation, with requirements to continue several therapy and medication programs, register as a sex offender, have no unsupervised contact with minors and perform 1,000 hours of community service.

"I often think of those young men and pray for them," Cox said at yesterday's hearing. "I have some sense of the impact I had on them. ... I know I have a compulsive addiction, but I would like to continue therapy. It's essential to my recovery."

While incarcerated at the county detention center, Cox has been a "model prisoner" who has "truly made the best of things," his lawyer, Andrew J. Graham, told the court.

Graham said that Cox has counseled other inmates and given them money while continuing therapy for his addiction.

He also said that Cox wants to continue to serve the public as he did during most of his career. About 20 years ago, Cox co-founded Resurrection Farm, a homeless shelter in Carroll County that also provided protection to victims of domestic violence.

Cox was arrested in May 2002 after John "Jeff" F. Curran III told Carroll County prosecutors that in 1980, when he was a fifth-grader at St. John, he was fondled by Cox in the shower while on swimming outings at what is now McDaniel College. The next month, Cox was charged with fondling a 13-year-old boy and performing a sex act on the youth in 1980 and 1981.

The Sun does not name victims of sexual crimes without their consent.

After referring to Cox's actions as "mistakes," Graham acknowledged that "criminal acts occurred" after Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore took issue with the term used in hundreds of letters of support for Cox.

"I do get distressed because there are so many references to the `mistakes he made,'" said Gilmore, who opposed the request for an early release. "They're certainly not mistakes. They're crimes."

Gilmore said that the victims still felt the impact of the abuse in feeling embarrassed and humiliated in recalling the events.

"When I talked to Jeff about Brian Cox, he told me, `Who was I supposed to go to? This is a man who'd eat dinner at our house on Sundays. He was next to God,'" Gilmore said.

She said the other victim still "shakes like a leaf" at the mention of Cox's name.

"The church needs to be a place where children feel safe," the prosecutor said. "These men need to go through a healing process. That healing can't happen without the full responsibility on behalf of the defendant."

About 20 former parishioners and friends of Cox embraced in the courtroom after hearing Galloway's decision.

"I believe he will continue by his nature to help others who are less fortunate," said Daniel Knott of Westminster. "He was always helping people who needed it the most. I believe he'll find a way to get back to that."

Knott agreed with Galloway's finding that Cox will impose a harsher sentence on himself than anything the court could mete out. "Nobody could punish him more than he's punished himself," Knott said.

During the hearing, Gretchen P. Murdza, Curran's mother, sat silently. "This is so disappointing," she said. "This is a major crime."

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