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Monday, Sep. 09, 2013

Sentencings this week in three high-profile court cases

The Kansas City Star

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A disgraced Catholic priest who produced child pornography should be sentenced to 50 years in prison, federal prosecutors say.

Neither Shawn Ratigan’s vow of chastity nor his advanced education stopped him from taking lewd photographs of five little girls over an almost six-year period, Assistant U.S. Attorney Katharine Fincham argued in a biting sentencing memorandum filed in federal court.

Fincham urged U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner to disregard the report of an expert hired by Ratigan’s defense lawyer to soften the sentence for the 47-year-old cleric.

That expert, Fincham observed, had “wistfully” noted that the word “Ratigan” means “caretakers of the church.”

“This Ratigan photographed Jane Doe #2 without any pants on next to a stained glass window in the choir loft of a church in which Ratigan was the pastor,” Fincham wrote. “The public can do without this kind of caretaker for the rest of his life.”

Ratigan’s sentencing Thursday will culminate a remarkable week in Kansas City federal court that will conclude three of the longest-running and highest-profile federal criminal cases in recent years.

Today, U.S. District Judge Greg Kays is scheduled to sentence three defendants in the 2008 arson fire that destroyed the Hereford House restaurant, a Kansas City icon.

And in separate hearings Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple will sentence six defendants in a Lebanon, Mo., bondage sex torture case.

Of the three, though, only Ratigan’s case generated international headlines. After the diocese received a laptop containing the pornographic images, Ratigan’s superiors delayed for months notifying police about the sordid nature of the pictures.

A Jackson County judge convicted Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph of misdemeanor failure to report suspicions of child abuse and sentenced him to two years of probation.

Fincham blasted Ratigan in her sentencing motion, calling him a “serial liar,” “reckless” and “arrogant.” Ratigan poses an ongoing danger to young girls, for whom he has an “uncontrolled obsession,” Fincham argued.

“What assurance is there that Ratigan will not re-offend when he was incapable of following the supervisory conditions imposed by the bishop, whom he perceived to be ‘in his corner’ and to whom he had taken a sacred vow of obedience?” Fincham asked.

Robert Kuchar, Ratigan’s defense attorney, did not file a sentencing memorandum. However, he raised sealed objections to Ratigan’s pre-sentence report, which also is not public.

But as detailed in Fincham’s filing, Kuchar objected to proposed sentencing enhancements for obstruction of justice, for sexual contact with some of the victims and for being a repeat and dangerous sex offender. Kuchar also argued that Ratigan should receive some credit for accepting responsibility for his actions.

Fincham contested all but the last argument. She acquiesced to the acceptance-of-responsibility benefit, noting that victims’ family members were relieved that, with Ratigan’s guilty plea last year, they would not have to endure the “trauma and publicity of a trial.”

Kuchar said Friday that he had turned over to the prosecutor and the judge a “thorough, comprehensive and detailed” report on Ratigan’s life.

“I hope to present it to the court to show there is more to Shawn Ratigan than what is shown in the pre-sentence investigation report and the government’s sentencing memorandum,” Kuchar said. “We trust that, at the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will be able to consider all the information, under the totality of the circumstances, and render a fair and reasonable sentence.”

In the Lebanon sex torture case, six defendants are preparing to hear their sentences in one of the most lurid and hard-fought criminal cases brought in Kansas City federal court in recent memory.

After suffering what prosecutors described as a heart attack during a sexual bondage episode, a young woman complained that she had been held against her will for years as a sex slave.

According to a court filing Thursday, the victim plans to speak at each of the sentencing hearings, rather than have the prosecutor deliver a prepared statement.

Five of the defendants signed a binding plea agreement, which the judge has yet to formally accept. Should Whipple agree to them, Edward Bagley Sr. and Bradley Cook each would receive 20-year sentences, Michael Stokes and James Noel would serve five years each, and Marilyn Bagley, Edward Bagley’s wife, would receive probation. The sixth defendant, Dennis Henry, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Since Marilyn Bagley’s guilty plea, prosecutors have described her as a second victim in the case.

The Hereford House arson case will lead off the week, with prosecutors urging Kays to sentence restaurant co-owner Rodney J. Anderson to at least 19 years in prison. They hope Kays will sentence co-defendants Vincent Pisciotta and Mark Sorrentino to more than 20 years and more than 15 years, respectively.

Anderson, who was deep in debt, conspired with Pisciotta and Sorrentino to burn the restaurant for millions in insurance money that could have allowed him to remodel and rebuild, prosecutors said.

In recent weeks, Sorrentino and Pisciotta have asked for a new trial, citing issues about the testimony of Sorrentino’s ex-wife. They also have raised constitutional questions of whether convictions for both arson and using fire to commit a federal felony constitute double jeopardy.

Prosecutors responded that Anderson argued the same issue before either Pisciotta or Sorrentino were brought into the case and a judge denied the motion.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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