Testifying against the first Louisville priest to be tried on criminal sex-abuse charges, two brothers ages 12 and 13 described yesterday how the Rev. Daniel C. Clark molested them as he bestowed gifts on their family and took them skating, bowling and to football practice.
“I told him I didn’t want to do this,” the younger boy told a Bullitt Circuit Court jury, recounting how Clark orally sodomized him in his Jeep in the darkened parking lot of a bowling alley. “He said, `Just this one time.’ ”
Clark’s lawyer tried to shake the boys’ stories, suggesting their desperately poor family, particularly one uncle, persuaded them to concoct the charges so they could join in lucrative lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville.
“Do you remember him telling you that you could all get some money out of this?” defense counsel David Lambertus asked the 12-year-old?
“He didn’t say that,” the boy shot back, referring to his uncle, Ralph Henry. “He said it had happened to him, and he wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to anybody else.”
Clark, 55, is charged with sexual abuse of both boys and of orally sodomizing the younger one, both over a five-year period ending in May 2002. If convicted on the more serious charge of sodomy, Clark faces from 20 years to life in prison.
The trial began yesterday.
The prosecution scored an important pretrial victory when Circuit Judge Thomas Waller ruled that the commonwealth could introduce evidence showing that Clark was convicted in Jefferson County in 1988 of molesting two boys who were about the same ages as the brothers.
One of those victims, Michael Mudd, now 33, told the jury how Clark began molesting him when he was 11 years old and went to see Clark for counseling at St. Rita parish, where Clark was assistant pastor. Mudd recalled that for years he was too embarrassed to come forward.
Asked by Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Mann if he was still embarrassed, Mudd said: “No. Now I’m madder than hell.”
Mann said Mudd’s testimony would show jurors that Clark’s alleged abuse of the boys in Bullitt County was no accident that they weren’t just playing or roughhousing but that Clark deliberately touched them for his own sexual gratification.
IN AN OPENING statement, Mann told a jury of eight men and five women, including one alternate, that the boys were testifying only with “great reluctance and embarrassment.”
He said they had no motive to fabricate the allegations, “to come into this courtroom and tell 13 people about it with the media looking on. Why would they make this up?”
But Lambertus said in his opening remarks that the boys’ family was experiencing a “financial crisis” that just a month or two before the allegations surfaced, they were threatened with eviction from their mobile home.
Lambertus said that Clark, who had helped the family “time and time again” lending them money and paying their rent had himself run out of money. Then the priest-abuse crisis hit the Louisville Archdiocese , Lambertus said, and the boys’ uncles, especially Ralph Henry, saw a potential windfall.
Lambertus told the jury that Henry told a Shepherdsville police detective last July that “I figured if this has happened to everybody else, I think I deserve something of what’s going on. I mean as far as financially.”
Lambertus said he wasn’t accusing the boys themselves of concocting the charges, but he said children are susceptible to pressure from adults.
“Prior to this indictment, the family filed multiple lawsuits against Clark and the archdiocese, for money,” Lambertus said.
Ralph and his brother, John Henry, were among the 243 plaintiffs whose lawsuits culminated in the $25.7 million settlement struck earlier this month with the archdiocese. The mother of the 12- and 13-year-old boys also filed a suit on their behalf against Clark and the church; the portion that names Clark is still pending.
NEITHER SHE nor the two boys seemed to be fazed by Lambertus’ cross-examination.
The boys, who sat a few feet from the jury as they testified, rather than on the witness stand, described how Clark had been a family friend as long as they could remember, visiting their home on holidays and nearly every weekend.
The younger boy, wearing a football jersey, blue jeans and sneakers, told how Clark, on the first of many occasions, put his hands down the boy’s pants and fondled his penis. “I wanted him to stop,” the boy said.
He said he told no one, however. “I was scared to death,” he said.
The older boy recalled how Clark who would give him money for birthdays and take him to McDonald’s first fondled him as he was watching a television show with his family, including six sisters. He said nobody noticed because they were staring at the screen. He said Clark later molested him in his bedroom and a bathroom.
“Wasn’t Dan Clark always nice to you?” Lambertus asked the younger boy.
“I think he was nice to us so we wouldn’t tell,” the boy said.
BOTH BOYS acknowledged that they didn’t report the alleged abuse until they heard their uncles discuss it at a family meeting last summer. And there were some discrepancies in when they confided in each other, and what each said to the other. Both boys, however, insisted that they were telling the jury the truth and that nobody had told them how to testify.
Their mother angrily rejected Lambertus’ suggestion that she filed suit on the boys’ behalf to enrich herself or bail herself out of financial trouble.
Asked how much she would get from their suit, she said none of it, that the settlement would go in a trust fund for the children.
She conceded that she was going through tough times last year, before the family’s allegations against Clark surfaced, but she said that as a single mother of eight children, she often experienced financial difficulties. And she denied that she had been threatened with eviction from Hickory Acres, a Bullitt County mobile home park.
The woman, who now lives with the boys in Elizabethtown, said she had known Clark since she was 14. “He was a kind and gentle soul,” she conceded to Lambertus. “He was like my dad.”
She said she finally told Clark to stay away from the family in May 2002, when he confided that he was about to be publicly accused in the priest-abuse scandal. He eventually was accused of sexual abuse in 20 lawsuits filed against the archdiocese.
Clark sat quietly at the defense table yesterday , dressed in a dark suit and tie; he is barred from wearing a Roman collar because Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly last summer removed him from all ministry. Both prosecution and defense referred to him simply as “Dan Clark” or “Mr. Clark,” rather than as “Father” or “Reverend,” even though he remains a priest.
He has been held in the Bullitt County Detention Center since his arrest Aug. 7, unable to make a $500,000 bail, and he looked extremely pale.
He smiled occasionally at several people who came to support him, including a sister, Jennifer Mikesell, who was the only one willing to identify herself.
MORE THAN a dozen prospective jurors were excused because they said they had formed an opinion about the case after reading about it in the newspaper or seeing news stories on televi sion . One told Waller that although he was a “practicing Catholic” with a “high regard for the priesthood,” he would make a “lousy juror” in this case. He was excused.
Lambertus himself disclosed to prospective jurors that Clark was a felon who had admitted molesting two children more than 20 years earlier.
“Knowing that, would that influence your opinion of the defendant’s guilt or innocence on these current charges?” Lambertus asked.
“It would me,” blurted out one panel member, who also was excused.
The jurors weren’t asked to disclose their religion.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today, and the defense is expected to begin its case. Clark’s co-counsel, Jonathan Heck, declined to say if Clark would testify.
Clark is one of three priests and two former parochial school teachers who have been charged with felonies in the child sexual-abuse scandal that has engulfed the Archdiocese of Louisville since April 2002.
Charges are pending in Jefferson Circuit Court against the Rev. James Hargadon and former teachers Gary Kazmarek and Joseph B. Greene III.
The Rev. Louis E. Miller is serving a 20-year sentence after he pleaded guilty to molesting 21 children in Jefferson County between 1957 and 1982. He could get more time when he is sentenced Aug. 18 for abusing 14 children in Oldham County. In both cases he pleaded guilty before a trial began.