Ex-priest released from prison early

Judge orders him to serve rest of term in home detention for abusing student

December 09, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun Reporter

Ten months after a former Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexually abusing a student, a Baltimore County judge granted the priest's request yesterday to serve the rest of his sentence on home detention - a decision his two victims criticized.

A lawyer for Jerome F. Toohey Jr., known as Father Jeff, had asked the judge to release his client either on probation or home detention because the conditions of his confinement at the county jail are "extremely tough."

Toohey, 60, the former chaplain of Calvert Hall College High School in Towson, has been kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for his safety because of threats made against him by other prisoners, his defense attorney, Andrew Jay Graham, told Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II yesterday.

The one hour Toohey is allowed out of his cell sometimes occurs at 1:30 a.m., the lawyer said.

"It has been an extremely tough 10 months for him," Graham told the judge. "The sentence has been much tougher than for the typical inmate."

But Thomas Roberts, the former Calvert Hall College High School student whom Toohey was convicted of abusing in 1987 and 1988 after the teenager sought counseling from the priest, told the judge that dealing with the sexual abuse that began when he was a sophomore has been difficult for him as well.

"I was let down by a trusted system years ago," Roberts said of the Roman Catholic Church. "I fear today that I will be let down again. This was a lenient sentence."

Roberts, now an anchor with CNN Headline News in Atlanta, later called the judge's decision "disappointing."

Another former student, Michael Goles, who now works for a telecommunications company's training department in Atlanta, asked the judge to consider the lifelong effects of the sexual abuse that he and Roberts suffered at their former priest's hands.

"Thomas and I don't get early release," he said. "We're stuck with life sentences for what we suffered."

Toohey was stripped of his authority to function as a pastor in 1993 by the Baltimore Archdiocese after Goles accused the priest of sexually abusing him in the 1980s after he had sought counseling. At that time Goles was a student at John Carroll School in Bel Air.

A lawsuit Goles filed in 1994 against Toohey was dismissed because state law requires that civil suits be filed within three years of an alleged incident.

Toohey pleaded guilty in November 2005 to sexually abusing Roberts. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors were allowed to argue for a tougher sentence by using evidence of the priest's alleged sexual abuse of Goles.

In agreeing yesterday to allow Toohey to serve the remaining eight months of his jail term on home detention, Turnbull said it was unfortunate that the sentence he fashioned in February could not be carried out the way he had intended - an apparent reference to the jail's need to keep Toohey in solitary confinement to prevent him from being harmed by other inmates.

In 2003, John Geoghan, a former priest convicted of abusing children, was strangled by a fellow inmate in a Massachusetts prison.

Defendants serving a sentence on home detention are generally permitted to leave their houses only for work, medical appointments and religious services.

Toohey did not address the judge during yesterday's hearing. He could be back at his Lutherville home within 24 hours of the hearing.

Although the charges filed in May 2005 against Toohey covered alleged abuse between 1987 and 1989 when Roberts was a student at the Catholic boys' school, the charge to which the former priest pleaded guilty covered abuse only between September 1987 and March 1988. Charges involving later alleged abuse were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.

Toohey had previously worked as a chaplain to the deaf community and Baltimore Police Department and as an associate at St. John the Evangelist in Hydes.

More recently, Toohey worked as the executive vice president of a job placement and career counseling business. He lost that job after being charged in this case in 2005.

At Toohey's sentencing hearing in February, prosecutors asked for a 10-year prison term, while his defense lawyer asked the judge to consider all the good his client had accomplished in life. He characterized Toohey's conduct as a byproduct of severe alcoholism that "just short-circuited his moral compass" and for which Toohey sought treatment in 1988 through Alcoholics Anonymous.

Turnbull sentenced Toohey to five years in prison, suspending all but 18 months and ordering that he serve 18 months of supervised probation after his release.

The Sun does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims without their permission. Both Roberts and Goles - now in their 30s - asked that their names be used in coverage of the case.

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

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