BURLINGTON, Vt. - A jury yesterday found that a man who sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for his alleged molestation by a priest 30 years ago should have done so years earlier.
After almost eight hours of deliberations, jurors found that the diocese had failed to adequately supervise now-defrocked Rev. Alfred Willis and awarded his accuser, James Turner, a judgment for $15,000 in compensatory damages.
But it also found that under the statute of limitations, he should have brought the claim by 1998 - six years before he did.
Turner, 47, of Virginia Beach, Va., says Willis performed a sex act on him in a motel room in Latham, N.Y., in 1977 and attempted to do it again months later in a visit to his family's home.
The former Derby man sued the church in 2004 for negligent supervision, saying it failed to protect him from Willis.
Willis, who was originally named in Turner's suit, later settled out of court. But the case became the first sex abuse case naming the diocese to go to trial.
Turner hugged his wife after the verdicts were read in a hushed Chittenden County Superior Court courtroom but declined to comment.
"In these situations, we don't talk about victory," said Bishop Salvatore Matano, who sat through the trial. "This has been extremely painful, I'm sure, for the plaintiff, for any victim of abuse, for their families and for our diocesan family."
Thomas McCormick, one of the diocese's lawyers, said it wasn't clear whether the diocese would have to pay the money, given the statute of limitations finding.
"We're disappointed by the result," said Turner's lawyer Jerome O'Neill. "I do think it stands for the proposition that if you're the diocese and you drag out every piece of someone's psychological history, and you beat them up as they did this man on the witness stand, you may be able to be successful in the short term.
"In the longer term, I think it's a self-defeating policy," he said.
Last June, the first trial of the case ended in a mistrial when a judge ruled that church lawyer David Cleary violated a pretrial order banning lawyers from suggesting that Turner's brother - a priest who'd been friends with Willis during their seminary days - had a homosexual relationship with Willis and was somehow partly responsible for what allegedly happened to James Turner.
The case returned to court last week before a new judge and jury.