Friday, October 10, 2003

Charges dismissed against ex-priest



By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A judge threw out criminal charges of sexual abuse against former Cincinnati priest George Cooley Thursday, saying police should have pursued the case years ago if they believed the allegations were true.

The charges against Cooley were filed earlier this year after a man told prosecutors that Cooley molested him when he was 8 years old in 1984.

In his ruling, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Richard Niehaus said Ohio's statute of limitations bars prosecution of Cooley because the allegations are so old.

The judge noted that police investigated Cooley in 1990 and charged him a year later with abusing four boys. Cooley admitted molesting the boys as part of a plea deal and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The man who now claims he was abused in 1984 was not part of the plea deal because he denied being abused when police questioned him in 1990.

Under Ohio law, the six-year statute of limitations for child abuse began to run when the child turned 18 or when a responsible adult learned of the abuse. If police learned of the boy's possible abuse in 1990, Judge Niehaus said, the statute would have expired in 1996.

Prosecutors argued a 1999 change in the statute of limitations - extending it from six to 20 years - made it possible to pursue charges.

But Niehaus ruled the new law does not apply in Cooley's case because the old statute had expired by the time the new statute took effect.

Cooley's lawyer, Scott Croswell, told the judge Wednesday that his client was innocent. He argued that the alleged victim had an opportunity to tell police about his claims in 1990 and chose not to do so.

Croswell said the man's decision to change his story years later put Cooley in the difficult position of defending himself against allegations that date back nearly 20 years.

Assistant Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said he knew the statute of limitations could be a problem in the Cooley case, but prosecutors decided to pursue the case anyway.

"Because the allegations are so serious, we were going to be aggressive about this," Piepmeier said today.

E-mail dhorn@enquirer.com




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