PITTSBURGH – A priest who was convicted of having sex with poor street children during missionary trips to Honduras and said federal prosecutors wrongly withheld evidence in his case won't get a new trial, a judge ruled.
The priest, 70-year-old Joseph Maurizio, was convicted in the sexual tourism case in September.
U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson rejected his appeal, clearing the way for him to be sentenced on March 2, barring further appeals. The judge, of Johnstown, found that an accuser's statement was wrongly withheld but wouldn't have changed the outcome of the priest's trial.
"Given the substantial evidence that exists in this case ... the court finds it unlikely that a jury at a second trial would acquit defendant," he wrote in the ruling, issued Monday.
The appeal, which prompted a hearing before the judge last week, concerned a statement given by one of the accusers who told investigators he wasn't "abused" by the priest.
The boy told a federal investigator that some others "think badly of me" because of his contact with Maurizio, before adding, "Perhaps they think he really abused me, but that was not the case."
But the judge agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Larson, who argued the boy's use of the word "abuse" referred to one act and not to other abuse the priest was accused of committing.
The judge agreed with the prosecutor that the boy later clarified his statement to investigators, confirming the priest fondled him, which Larson said was consistent with his trial testimony.
Defense attorney Steven Passarello argued he could have used the statement to cross-examine the boy, which he opted not to do absent the statement, and the priest deserved a new trial as a result.
Passarello said he's unsure whether he'll appeal or ask the judge to delay the priest's sentencing until another appeal plays out. But the defense attorney said he was "very disappointed" in the ruling and puzzled that the judge agreed with the defense on so much but still refused to grant the new trial.
The judge agreed with Passarello that the statement favored the defense, could have been used to impeach the accuser, was wrongly withheld by prosecutors and was relevant to whether the priest was guilty or innocent.
Passarello said that, based on those findings, "I thought the ending of the opinion would be different."
But the judge said the rest of the evidence, including testimony that another boy witnessed the fondling, was strong enough to warrant conviction.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown suspended Maurizio after federal prosecutors filed charges in September 2014.
Prosecutors contend Maurizio used a self-run Johnstown-based charity to travel to an orphanage for several years ending in 2009. They said Maurizio promised candy and cash to three boys to watch them shower, perform sex acts on themselves or fondle them.
Maurizio last served at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Central City, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He maintains his innocence and has been looking to hire a public relations firm to tell his story.