The Father Michael Kelly Sexual Molestation Case

     In 2008, a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim’s Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred t…

     In 2008, a 31-year-old major in the U. S. Air Force Reserves brought a sexual molestation suit against Father Michael Kelly, the 58-year-old pastor of St. Joachim's Catholic Church in Lockeford, California. The plaintiff, referred to as John TZ Doe pursuant to a court order not to reveal his identify, didn't remember being molested by Father Kelly until 2006. Although the statute of limitations ruled out criminal charges, a civil suit could be brought against the priest and the church.

     In the lawsuit, John Doe accuses Father Kelly of molesting him in the 1980s when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Stockton, California. In September 2007, following the recovery of his "repressed memory," John Doe had filed a complaint with Bishop Stephen Blaine of the Stockton Diocese. Father Kelly, placed on administrative leave, denied the allegations. Following an internal investigation by diocesan officials, Father Kelly, in March 2008, was re-instated at St. Joachim's Catholic Church.

     The civil trial got underway on February 29, 2012 in the San Joaquin County Superior Court. Judge Bob McNatt had ruled that the jury could not be told that Father Kelly was the subject of a pending sexual molestation investigation being conducted by the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office. According to the criminal complaint, Father Kelly had molested a boy during the period 2000-2002 while he was pastor of St. Andrew's Parish in San Andreas, California. (In 2004, Father Kelly was transferred to St. Joachim's in Stockton. Prior to his tenure in San Andreas, Father Kelly had been pastor at churches in Sonora, Tracy, Modesto, and Ceres, California.)

     Plaintiff's attorney John Manly put on several witnesses who, as boys in the defendant's churches, had been repeatedly tickled and wrestled with by the priest. According to this testimony, Father Kelly had sexually touched and fondled them during these bouts of roughhousing.

     John Doe took the stand and spoke of being molested by the defendant on a walking trail outside of Stockton, in a motel room, and in the priest's living quarters. In the motel room, the plaintiff said he had fallen asleep, and when he awoke, he and the priest were in bed naked. At the defendant's living quarters, Father Kelly had removed the witness' clothing. John Doe said he then fell asleep, and when he awoke, he was fully dressed. (From this testimony, the plaintiff was asking jurors to infer that he had been drugged.) Pointing at Father Kelly, the witness yelled, "You raped me, I was just a kid!"

     On March 20, San Francisco psychiatrist Anlee Kuo testified that she, in evaluating the reliability of John Doe's recovered memories of events that had occurred when he was 10-years-old, gave him several tests that measured the validity of his accounts. The results of these tests convinced her that these memories were accurate. Dr. Kuo pointed out that the repressed memory phenomenon is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. Moreover, she said that repressed memory is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the psychiatrist, Father Kelly's sexual molestation has caused the plaintiff, as a 35-year-old adult, to suffer from depression and alcohol abuse.

     The next day, defense attorney Thomas Beatty put Father Kelly on the stand. The priest told the jury that he had not sexually molested the plaintiff. On cross-examination, John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, asked Father Kelly this: "At any time did you get under a blanket with [the plaintiff]?"

     "Of course not," came the reply.

     "Did you ever take him into the bathroom to disrobe?"

     "I absolutely deny it."

     "Did you ever take the [plaintiff] on a hike?"

     "I did not," answered the priest.

     Dr. J. Alexander Bodkin of Harvard University took the stand for the defense. Dr. Bodkin told the jury that repressed memories--also known as dissociative memory--is not a scientifically proven phenomenon. "Peoples' memories don't get better with time," he said. "They get worse. The plaintiff's story is difficult to believe."

     Following the lunch break on Friday, April 6, 2012, the case went to the jury of 10 women and 2 men. Because this was a civil trial, only 9 votes were required for the jury to reach a verdict. Moreover, the standard of proof in a civil trial is less rigorous than in a criminal proceeding that requires guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil trial, a plaintiff merely has to establish his case by a "preponderance of the evidence." That is, the plaintiff's allegations against the defendant is more likely to be true than not true.

     After deliberating a day, the jury found Father Michael Kelly liable for three of the sexual molestation allegations. The second phase of the trial, with the same jury, would focus on the dioceses' handling of child abuse allegations against Father Kelly and other priests. One of the other priests was Father Oliver O'Grady who had been convicted of child molestation and possession of child pornography. The O'Grady case had cost the Diocese of Stockton millions of dollars in civil case settlements in more than 20 lawsuits. The jury also had the task of determining how much money to award John Doe.

     Immediately after the verdict, the Bishop removed Father Kelly from the ministry Three hours later, speaking to 100 of his parishioners at St. Joachim's Church in Lockeford, the ex-priest said, "The charges against me are untrue." When Michael Kelly reminded his supporters that he had passed two polygraph tests, they cheered. Because polygraph test results are not admissible in court, the jury did not know this. But the jurors didn't know about the ongoing sexual molestation investigation involving Michael Kelly in Calaveras County. Under the laws of evidence, jurors, in making their decisions, are kept in the dark about a lot of things.

     Michael Kelly, on April 15, 2015, flew to his native Ireland for what he described as needed medical treatment. He was under subpoena to testify the next day in the second phase of the lawsuit in Stockton. John Manly, the plaintiff's attorney, said that he believes the ex-priest received help in leaving the country. Kelly's attorney, Tom Beatty, said that he was "saddened by Father Kelly's illness and his devastation brought on by the finding of the repressed memory claim of abuse. I believe it is important for Father Kelly to be present during the damages phase of the case, but he feels he has lost everything already. I hope to talk to him shortly." John Manly said that whoever helped Kelly to escape out of the country could be arrested for aiding and abetting.

     In August 2015, the Stockton Diocese settled the lawsuit for $3.75 million.

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/