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2 PRIESTS FREED, OTHERS AWAIT REVIEW OF OLD CASES.

Byline: Michael Gougis Staff Writer

Former priests Michael Wempe and Lawrence Joseph Lovell walked out of the Los Angeles County jail Friday as attorneys started analyzing hundreds of decades-old child-molestation cases affected by Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

``It's going to be a very complicated process, and it's going to be very labor-intensive,'' said Robert Kalunian, Los Angeles County chief deputy public defender.

In the wake of the high court decision striking down a state law that retroactively revoked the statute of limitations on certain sex crimes against children, prosecutors, public defenders and private attorneys spent Friday trying to sort through a decade of convictions obtained under a law now declared unconstitutional.

And at the same time, people who accused priests of molesting them decades ago called on state legislators and prosecutors to find new ways to punish and identify those who will not face criminal charges because of the Supreme Court ruling.

The county District Attorney's Office did not oppose motions to release former priests Wempe, 63, and Lovell, 55, who are among the 11 Los Angeles County clergymen whose cases were brought under the invalidated law.

Wempe was charged with 42 counts of child molestation; Lovell with 11 counts of lewd conduct upon a child.

The District Attorney's Office's Sex Crimes Unit started sorting through more than 200 cases ``scattered all over Los Angeles'' to determine whether those convictions can be salvaged, spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.

``There'll be a lot of people working this weekend,'' she said.

Kalunian said the process is complicated because, under the law that took effect in 1994, several different types of crimes could be prosecuted beyond their original statutes of limitations.

Each of those case files has to be reread to determine the specific date of the alleged offense and compare it with the original statute of limitations for that crime.

One private attorney, whose firm represented about 20 priests accused of child molestation, said it would take ``days, not months'' before motions to halt their prosecutions are filed.

``We would be hopeful that the district attorney would just dismiss these cases,'' said attorney Lawrence Guzin. ``Otherwise we will have to file habeus corpus motions.''

The high court ruled that retroactively changing the statute of limitations on a crime violates the Constitution. Writing for the majority, Justice Stephen Breyer called it ``fundamentally unfair'' to revive dead prosecutions, and critics said that because evidence could be lost and witnesses die in the years after a statute of limitations expired, it would be impossible for a defendant in a long-ago case to receive a fair trial.

Victims of those convicted of child-abuse charges worried that their attackers would be freed.

``From what I know of this type of crime, it doesn't stop. I don't want him out on the streets again,'' said Mary Anne Seifried, who said she was sexually abused by former teacher Paul Kreutzer from 1968 to 1971, when he was her dance instructor.

Kreutzer, who taught at several Los Angeles-area schools during a 30- year career, was sentenced last year to 16 years in state prison, plus nine consecutive one-year-to-life terms, after pleading guilty to 15 child-molestation charges.

However, two of the charges against Kreutzer will be unaffected by the high court ruling because the assaults took place after 1994, prosecutors said.

At an afternoon news conference, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called on lawmakers, police and prosecutors to ``work even more creatively to arrest and charge molesters,'' said Joelle Casteix, who said she was molested by a priest in Orange County.

``Perhaps these dangerous men can be required to register as sex offenders, even though their sentences are cut short or their prosecution is thwarted,'' she said. ``We want prosecutors to keep pursuing child molesters by more aggressively using current laws and by publicly naming suspects who were about to be charged.''

However, attorneys who represented priests and others charged under the old law suggested that public agencies that released such information could be liable in civil court for doing so, and that requiring someone with no criminal record to register as a sex offender also is illegal.

``Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in the presumption of innocence,'' Guzin said.

Kay Duffy, defense attorney for Carl Sutphin, said she will ask next week that charges against the 71-year-old former Ventura County priest be dropped.

Sutphin has pleaded not guilty to molesting six children in the 1960s and 1970s. Sutphin, an associate pastor at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, retired in 2002.

``He already has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. He will forever be incarcerated,'' Duffy said.

Los Angeles Police Department officials said they still want people who were assaulted in decades past to come forward. While the assaults against them might not be prosecuted, the information they provide could be used to corroborate complaints that prosecutors still could pursue, since most molesters commit their crimes over several years.

LAPD Lt. Dennis Shirey said victims could contact the department at (213) 847-5358.

Staff Writer Amy Raisin and wire services contributed to this report.

Michael Gougis, (818) 713-3762

michael.gougis(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jun 28, 2003
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