Monday, July 21, 2008

Monk key business

I remember this case from several years ago.

I guess he'll rethink his having confessed to his probation officer to come clean on everyrthing.

Ex-monk pleads not guilty in sexual assault case
Zeke MacCormack - Express-News

JOHNSON CITY — Back in the courtroom where he was sentenced to a 10-year prison term in 1999 for molesting a boy at the now-defunct Christ of the Hills Monastery, Jonathan Hitt pleaded not guilty Friday to sexually assaulting another novice monk there in 1993.

It was the first court appearance by Hitt, 47, on the charge filed two years ago during an investigation that saw authorities raid the monastery outside Blanco and arrest four other monks.

Clean-shaven, his hair cut short, the former “Father Jeremiah” looked younger and calmer in an orange jail jumpsuit than at trial here nine years ago in a black robe, long hair and beard, where his defiant denials didn’t sway jurors who convicted him on seven counts of indecency with a child.

Hitt, who will be eligible for release from prison next year, is one of two former monks still facing unresolved charges. The other, Hugh Fallon, is slated to go to trial next month on a charge of sexual assault of a child.

The July 24, 2006, raid closed the hilltop enclave that opened in 1981 and four years later began drawing national media attention and droves of visitors when monks announced that a picture of the Virgin Mary on display there miraculously wept tears of myrrh.

The monastery’s founder and spiritual leader, Samuel A. Greene Jr., aka Father Benedict, died last September from a prescription pills overdose that was ruled suicide.

He was due in court that week to face charges he violated the terms of probation he’d received in 2000 for nine counts of indecency with the same boy whose outcry landed Hitt in prison.
The 2006 charges arose from admissions Greene made to a probation officer in an attempt to come clean and avoid having his probation revoked.

Besides admitting the “weeping icon” was a fundraising fraud, Greene reportedly implicated his longtime followers, Hitt, Fallon, William E. Hughes and Walter P. Christley.

Prosecutor Cheryl Nelson, who planned to seek a 180-year prison term for the probation violations, called Greene, 63, cowardly for taking his life.

Authorities initially also brought organized crime charges against the monks, for allegedly using drugs and booze to ply novice monks into sex acts, but those charges were dropped.

A month after Greene’s death, Hughes, aka Abbott Vasili, was convicted at trial of four counts of sexual assault of a child and was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

One of the two victims in that case, James B. Wright Jr., earlier had won a $1 million judgment against Ecumenical Monks Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns the 105-acre monastery outside Blanco, to resolve a sexual abuse lawsuit he filed in 2006.

He wants to sell the property to collect the judgment, but the state had already initiated a forfeiture action to seize the site as contraband, claiming it was used in the commission of money laundering, theft, fraud and molestations.

Last October, a judge struck Wright’s bid to intervene in the state’s pending forfeiture suit on the vacant monastery, where piles of brush now block the entrance, flanked by “Keep Out” signs.

Prosecutors are currently negotiating with Wright’s lawyer on a possible sale of the site and division of the proceeds.

Last month, Christley, aka Father Pangratios, pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a 16-year-old novice in 1994 and was sentenced to 10 years’ deferred adjudication and a $2,000 fine and ordered to register as a sex offender, records show.

Adherence to the probation terms would result in dismissal in 2018 of the charge against Christley, 47, of Kerrville.

Prosecutor Cheryl Nelson declined to comment on the cases of Christley and Fallon, aka Father Tihkon, who’s free on bond and living in New Jersey.

Records show Fallon, 42, rejected a plea offer from the state at a June 27 hearing, clearing the way for a trial in Gillespie County, where it was moved in a venue change sought by the defense.

Neither Nelson nor Fallon’s attorney, Kurt Corley, would reveal the terms of the offer.

Corley has asked the court to prohibit the state from offering testimony about Greene’s grooming of young monks for sexual exploitation, of drug use by monks, and the weeping icon.
He’s also filed motions to bar from evidence Greene’s 2005 statements to the probation officer, calling them involuntary since Greene faced the threat of prison if he didn’t cooperate.

Corley also says Fallon has been denied a speedy trial, and that Fallon’s ability to clear his name has been compromised by time’s passage.

“We’re talking about alleged acts from June 1995,” Corley said Thursday. “That length of time alone affects a person’s ability to recall. Our position is that there’s been evidence lost.”