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Fr. Graham found guilty; sentencing set for Oct. 6

From September 2005

Two vastly different portraits of Father Thomas Graham were painted for jurors Sept. 1 deciding the fate of the priest they found guilty the previous day of one count of sodomy on a boy, then 13.
After a lengthy deliberation, the jurors recommended that he be sentenced to 20 years in prison. Judge Angela Turner Quigless will formally sentence him Oct. 6 to the recommended time or a lesser amount. The archdiocese posted a $500,000 appearance bond. An appeal of the conviction is expected.
The reported abuse occurred more than 20 years ago and was made public 10 years ago. The archdiocese investigated the allegation then and said it did not find the complaint to be substantiated.
Trial testimony stated that the crime occurred in the rectory of the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral) in the 1970s.
A statement in 2002 by the archdiocese noted that Father Graham "has unambiguously stated that the allegation is untrue." He continued to deny it during his trial.
Graham’s attorney, Christian Goeke, said he respected the jury for its decision but did not agree with it.
Pointing to testimony by a man and woman earlier in the sentencing phase who were brought in by the prosecutor, Goeke said it is "indicative of the type of false allegations leveled against priests these days."
Everyone agrees, Goeke said, that "there are false allegations against the Catholic Church."
He showed disbelief about the two witnesses’ testimony. "You gotta be kidding," he said, pointing to testimony by one witness, a man who said that he was abused by Father Graham in the rectory during a time period that actually was several years after Father Graham had been reassigned from the parish.
Other witnesses for Father Graham called him a faithful priest and a good friend who does not pose a danger to society. Some witnesses who were teens and working at the Old Cathedral along with Father Graham said his behavior always was proper.
But the prosecutor, Edmund Postawko, said Father Graham is "a classic case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing."
"It’s disconcerting. Here you have someone who spent a life with people who will come in" and talk about his goodness, Postawko said. But, "just because this wolf doesn’t prey on every sheep that walks by him doesn’t mean he doesn’t do that every once in a while."
The witnesses, he said, didn’t witness the abuse and "certainly it’s not the kind of thing you tell people you’re doing."
Father Graham, Postawko said, put up a facade — "a false front that has a collar on it."
Most of the time he maintained people’s trust but "for a few people that trust was viciously betrayed, horribly betrayed."
Postawko said the betrayal is of a serious nature, with long-term consequences involving years of suffering.
He said a sentence of 25 years would be necessary.
"I ask you to look closely at the betrayal of trust and the impact of that."
Goeke said Father Graham already has been punished. "Since 1994 his life as a priest is over."
Noting that the crime he was convicted of "alleged to have occurred" more than 25 years ago, he said, "There is no reason to believe .... that Father Graham poses any danger to anyone."
He urged the jury to consider any doubts they have about Father Graham’s guilt. "Search your consciences. ... Give him the benefit of the doubt."
A sentence of more than two years "is just a sentence to die in prison," he noted.
Father Graham had more than a dozen supporters at the sentencing.
William J. Finnegan, a retired Missouri State Highway Patrolman, spoke on the priest’s behalf at the hearing. He said Father Graham assisted his mother while she was a resident of Nazareth Living Center.
Noting that he went to the seminary briefly, Finnegan said Father Graham is "everything I would have hoped to have been if I were a priest."
"He’s encouraging, ever-present, quite a man. He’s helped me" many times, Finnegan said.
During the trial, Father Graham did not wear clerical attire, following U.S. bishops’ policies.
Father Graham was chaplain at Nazareth Living Center in 2002 when he was placed on administrative leave after a criminal charge was filed. A judge had dismissed the charge based on the state’s statute of limitations, but it were reinstated on appeal.
Father Graham, 71, was ordained in 1960. He taught at St. Thomas Aquinas High School from 1960-64 and was associate pastor at Good Shepherd Parish in Ferguson, St. Mary in Bridgeton and St. Pius V Parish in St. Louis before being named associate pastor of the Old Cathedral from 1975-80.
He was pastor of St. Alban Roe Parish in Glencoe from 1980-89 and St. Bernadette Parish in Lemay from 1989-94. He later was named chaplain at Nazareth, a nursing home in South County.

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