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Ex-Priests Face Hearing

L.A.: Criminal Court Sets Arraignment For Both Men Accused of Sex Crimes

Jan 15, 2003 | AP

Two former Roman Catholic priests appeared in the same criminal courtroom in Los Angeles on Wednesday to face child molestation charges.

One of them, John Anthony Salazar-Jimenez, 47, a convicted child molester, challenged the state's right to prosecute him for his alleged sexual abuse of boys in the early 1980s.

The other, Matthew Michael Sprouffske, 75, had his bail reduced from $200,000 to $25,000 over the objections of prosecutors and was released pending a Feb. 20 arraignment on four counts of committing lewd acts with a minor under 14.

Prosecutors say Sprouffske molested a female relative during the 1950s. At the time, he was a priest assigned to the now-defunct Mount Carmel High School in Los Angeles.

Both cases appeared on the docket of Judge Jeffrey M. Harkavy as part of an ever-widening sex abuse scandal that has led to the arrest of six former priests in Los Angeles.

"We are challenging whether the prosecution can lawfully prosecute Mr. Salazar,' said lawyer Daniel Guerrero after filing a motion maintaining the statue of limitations for bringing criminal charges involving sexual abuse has expired.

District attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors are relying on a provision of state law that allows criminal charges to be filed within a year of a sex crime being reported, no matter how long ago it occurred.

The law has been challenged in the state appellate courts and upheld by the state Supreme Court, Gibbons said. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments against it in March.

"We believe the law will stand,' Gibbons said. "We are very comfortable with our filing.'

Dressed in a blue jacket and wearing glasses, Salazar-Jimenez nodded his head in response to questions posed by Harkavy, who postponed his arraignment until March 6.

The former priest was arrested last month in Los Angeles and is free on bail awaiting trial. He is charged with molesting a student at St. Bernard High School and an altar boy at St. Teresita Church in the early 1980s, Gibbons said.

"I have no idea as to the merits of these claims at this time,' his lawyer said.

In 1986, Salazar-Jimenez was charged with eight counts of sexual abuse involving four boys in Los Angeles. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts involving two teenage altar boys and was sentenced to six years in prison.

He served nearly three years, was paroled and while on parole in New Mexico was hired directly from a treatment program for sexual abusers by the Catholic Diocese in Amarillo, Texas. He worked there for 11 years until resigning the priesthood in May.

Amarillo diocese officials have said they received no complaints of inappropriate behavior while Salazar-Jimenez served as a parish priest at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia, Texas, and St. Paul's Mission in Kress, Texas.

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