Former Prosecutor Trying To Change Sex Crime Laws
SPOKANE — Former Priest and confessed pedophile Patrick O’Donnell was able to dodge the law when reports of his abuse didn’t reach police until years after the statute of limitations expired. Now there’s an effort to change the law and hold child molesters accountable for their entire lives.
A number of states, including Idaho, don’t have a statute of limitations for child sex crimes. A perpetrator can be punished no matter when their victim comes forward. In Washington however charges must be filed by the victim’s 24th or 25th birthday depending on the crime.
Former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett is behind an effort to get it changed. He’s been pushing a bill through the state legislature to drop the statute of limitations for child sex crimes and has established a website to help his effort called Stopmolesters.org
Fifteen other states have already done it. This week he learned it will be another year before the legislature will address the issue.
“Washington is way behind the other states,” Brockett said. “Way behind.”
The current law states child rape and molestation charges must be filed within seven years of the offense or by the victim’s 21st birthday which ever is later. Only murder has no statute of limitations in Washington but for the fifth year in a row, Brockett’s bill failed in the legislature.
“I’m disappointed and it’s sad the legislature didn’t fight to protect kids,” Brockett said.
State Senator Adam Kline (D – 37 District) will not bring the bill to a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that he questions if the statute of limitations should be dropped in this case.
“I think there is some reason to lengthen them. I think there is a reason to do this selectively and carefully. I don’t think it’s something you just want to wave your arm and get rid of,” Kline said.
Sen. Kline says the issue has been sent to the sentencing guidelines commission for review and it will make a recommendation for next year.
“It can be wide ranging. There are no parameters on it. It could be, on the one hand, leave well enough alone. It could be, as Don would have it, get rid of all statutes of limitations or could be, probably will be something in between,” Sen. Kline said.
Critics of dropping the statute of limitations also worry about an increased work load on police and trying to prove old cases.
If the law ever changed it won’t be retroactively applied, which means O’Donnell will never face justice. Since he was never charged with or convicted of a sex crime he won’t have to register as a sex offender, even after admitting in videotaped depositions that he molested teenage boys while serving as a priest in the Spokane Diocese.
Steve Barber was one of those teenagers who was abused by Father Pat. He says O’Donnell may never go to jail, but he could lose his house as victims are continuing a civil lawsuit against him.
“If he has assets we’re going to take them … it’s the only thing we can do,” Barber said.
Barber hopes that feeling of hopelessness felt by victims can end by ending the statute of limitations.
“O’Donnell will skate criminally on this because of the statute of limitations but if we can get the statute changed to where they have to look over their shoulder the rest of their lives maybe we can protect some kids in the future,” Barber said.