No new trial for priest guilty of sex tourism

2016-02-09 05:56
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Pittsburgh -  A federal judge refused to grant a new trial for a Pennsylvania priest who claimed federal prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence in his sexual tourism case.

The 70-year-old priest, Joseph Maurizio, was convicted in September on charges he had sex with poor street children during missionary trips to Honduras.

US District Judge Kim Gibson of Johnstown rejected his appeal, clearing the way for Maurizio to be sentenced on March 2, barring further appeals.

The judge found that an alleged victim's statement was wrongly withheld, but wouldn't have changed the outcome of the priest's trial.

"Given the substantial evidence that exists in this case ... the court finds it unlikely that a jury at a second trial would acquit defendant," he wrote in the ruling issued on Monday.

The appeal, which prompted a hearing before Gibson last week, concerned a statement given by one of the alleged victims who at one point told investigators he wasn't "abused" by the priest.

The boy told a federal investigator that some others "think badly of me" because of his contact with Maurizio, before adding, "Perhaps they think he really abused me, but that was not the case."

But Gibson agreed with Assistant US Attorney Amy Larson, who argued the victim's use of the word "abuse" referred to one specific act and not to other alleged abuse by the priest.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor that the boy later clarified his statement to investigators, confirming that the priest fondled him, which Larson said was consistent with his trial testimony.

Defence attorney Steven Passarello argued he could have used the statement to cross examine the boy and that the priest deserved a new trial as a result.

Passarello said he planned to review the ruling and issue a statement later Monday.

Gibson agreed with Passarello that the statement favoured the defence and should have been turned over. But the judge said the rest of the evidence - including testimony that another boy witnessed the priest fondle the boy who gave the statement - was strong enough to warrant conviction anyway.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown suspended Maurizio after federal prosecutors filed charges in September 2014.

Prosecutors contend Maurizio used a self-run Johnstown-based charity to travel to an orphanage for several years ending in 2009. Maurizio allegedly promised candy and cash to three boys to watch them shower, perform sex acts on themselves, or fondle them.

The priest maintains his innocence and has been looking to hire a public relations firm to tell his story, Passarello has said.

Read more on:    us  |  child abuse

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