April 12, 2005

Bill stops clock on abuse cases

TEXAS
The Dallas Morning News

10:47 PM CDT on Monday, April 11, 2005

By BROOKS EGERTON / The Dallas Morning News

Stephanie Burt and son Tommy Burt, who was abused as a boy, are working with Sen. Rodney Ellis to get legislation passed that eliminates the statute of limitations in child abuse cases. Kenneth Eugene Ward is a pedophile, by his own admission, and he is fast becoming a poster child for people who want to eliminate Texas' deadline for prosecuting child sexual abuse. That deadline a criminal case must commence by the accuser's 28th birthday may be the only reason he is free in Dallas today.

The former East Texas schoolteacher and Baptist preacher has admitted fondling or sexually assaulting dozens of boys, crimes that could have brought him a life sentence. Instead, he served four years for a single indecency conviction; all the other cases were too old to prosecute.

Now a grass-roots lobbying campaign in Austin, led by one of those victims and his mother, is pushing legislation that would eliminate the abuse statute of limitations. Several prominent lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, have endorsed the bill and say it will pass this year but only if they can get it before the full House and Senate for votes.

"The Ward case is such an appalling injustice," said Senate sponsor Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who is more often associated with checking prosecutorial power and ensuring defendants' rights. Top backers in the House include Rep. Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, who's considered that chamber's family-law expert.

But the proposal may be stalled in key committees. One is the House criminal jurisprudence panel led by Terry Keel, R-Austin. Mr. Keel, a former sheriff and prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney, would not comment.

Posted by kshaw at April 12, 2005 08:21 AM