Yesterday Rev. Michael Sprauer was found guilty in a civil suit of sexually abusing boys while serving as the chaplain at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in the 1970s. Jury awarded 2 of 3 plaintiffs nearly $1.4 million, which will likely be appealed. Sprauer faces six more sex-abuse lawsuits by former MacLaren inmates.
And, frankly, I think the man is innocent.
The Stateman-Journal, doing their usual bang-up journalism, only contacted six of the 12 jury members and only those who thought Spauer guilty. Nonetheless, what did they have to say? Juror Jennifer Trilby Marlin:
His [Spauer’s] denials weren’t as convincing as the plaintiffs’ accusations.
So Spauer clearly lost the war of words, but what about, you know, actual evidence?
Witness-stand accounts given by Sprauer’s accusers, who told of shame and suffering caused by decades-old sex abuse, clearly had an impact on jurors.
“They were visibly, convincingly, upset,” Marlin said.
In contrast, some jurors were put off by Sprauer’s stoic demeanor throughout the trial.
“At the start of the trial, he seemed extremely cold and emotionless,” Marlin said.
“All he did was adjust himself in his seat and smile,” [juror] Krehbiel said. “He showed no emotion, no remorse.”
Um, yes, but you know, evidence. What about actual evidence?
The Oregonian‘s much finer article on the same subject quotes juror Devin Russo:
All of us in the jury kind of said we weren’t going to look at anyone but the judge, but I happened to look over at him [one of the plaintiffs] and I almost started crying myself,” said Russo, 38. “And in a way, that definitely reinforced my decision in favor of him because there’s definitely a lot of pain there.”
Emotional pain as evidence? Presiding juror Steve LaMere:
“Just to see the faces as they gave testimony really gave a lot of validity to the accusations.”
Was there anyone on the jury who, you know, looked at the facts? Not to read The Statesman‘s article. For that, we must turn again to The Oregonian who helpfully called dissenting juror Darrell Thun:
There was no proof that the priest did anything,” said Darrell Thun, 58, one of the dissenters. “I think it was basically over when they said Catholic priest and sex abuse.”
Thun did not stay around the courthouse with the other jurors, but later in a telephone interview [what a concept, huh, Statesman?] he said the evidence showed that Sprauer wasn’t assigned to MacLaren when virtually all of the abuse allegedly occurred. The other jurors, Thun said, “were looking for a reason to say he did it and it didn’t make any difference what the facts were.”
Thun said it boiled down to Sprauer’s word against the testimony of the plaintiffs.
“To me it’s all speculation,” he said. “I don’t know if they made it up. I don’t know what happened. Who knows what happened? But I don’t think you can convict him on who knows?”
Well, apparently you can, because in the face of no actual evidence other than admittedly emotional testimony, the jury awarded two of three plaintiffs $1.4 million.
Why not the third? Again, The Statesman:
The jury ruled that Sprauer did not sexually abuse a third plaintiff — Norman Klettke Jr.
Though some jurors came to believe that Klettke also was molested at MacLaren, they said his account wasn’t strong enough to pass muster. The biggest problem: Klettke said Sprauer molested him in 1978, more than three years after the priest left MacLaren.
“The dates were extremely farfetched for Klettke,” [juror] Pence said. “I really wish we could have done more for him.”
Because, you know, giving people money is what being a juror is all about.
The Oregonian story concludes thusly:
The standard of proof is much lower in a civil trial than a criminal trial, and Marlin still harbors some doubts.
“I still don’t feel like I’m ever going to know for sure. I do believe that the plaintiffs have been abused, very probably by Father Mike, but I’ll never know for sure,” Marlin said. “If Father Mike is innocent, I’m sorry for that.”
The “standard of proof” the story refers to is not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” that governs criminal cases, but the “clear and convincing evidence” burden of persuasion. After hearing the comments from jurors, I don’t see how even that lesser requirement could have been met. I’m not the only one:
Obviously he can’t get a fair trial,” Thun said. “All you have to do is say priest abuse and collect the money. I don’t know why they bothered with the trial.”
That is an excellent question, to which I’d add the following: Where are the claims of abuse from the 1980s, 1990s and present from non-ex-MacLaren inmates? Because pedophiles—especially those who continue in authority positions and given the opportunities that present—do not miraculously become “cured” of their affliction. If Sprauer were guilty, we should see a line of plaintiffs from the last 30 years. Instead we see no one, which makes me think this trial was a scam, a sham, or both.