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Sex crimes case against elderly defendant dismissed

An elderly North Carolina priest who was facing allegations of child sex abuse will not go to trial, according to area news reports. The man, now 86, was found incapable of standing trial for the alleged sex crimes, largely because he suffers from a variety of serious conditions that include dementia. The man had been accused of assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1977.

The alleged victim in the case filed a report against the defendant in 2010. He claimed that the defendant accosted him in the parlor of Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Church. The defendant was accused of taking indecent liberties with a child, and he had already entered a “not guilty” plea.

Attorneys for the defendant say that the court took the right steps in deciding that the man was not fit to stand trial. A judge in the case explained that the man suffers from such severe cognitive deterioration that he lacks the mental capacity to understand a legal proceeding. Attorneys for the victim, however, say that the court should have taken action sooner; in the four years since the report was filed, the man’s condition has worsened.

Perhaps, they say, he might have been competent to stand trial if the justice system had moved faster.

Criminal defendants who lack the capacity to endure a legal proceeding have special rights and are afforded certain protections under the law. In this case, the man is so ill that a criminal trial hardly seems logical – though the law is not always based on “common sense.” The man has had the sex crimes charges dismissed, in part because he apparently could not even recognize his own attorney during their last visit. It is hardly sensible to put such a human being on trial for a crime that occurred more than three decades ago.

Source: Winston-Salem Journal, "Charges against Kelleher dismissed," July 2, 2014.

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