2003-04-26 / Community

Priest Denies Sexual Assault on Rockaway Trip

By Howard Schwach
Priest Denies Sexual Assault on Rockaway Trip By Howard Schwach

Whether or not a visiting African priest will spend the next two years in prison may well depend on which version of the events of Father’s Day, June 16, 2002 the jury believes – the 12-year-old boy’s version that the priest groped him a number of times on the beach and at least two other Rockaway locations, or the priests version that nothing untoward happened between the two that day.

The verdict might also turn on whether or not the jury believes that the beachfront at Beach 116 Street was so deserted on that June day that a man could molest a child without being noticed by other beachgoers.

The child, who remains unidentified because of the nature of the assault against him, testified on Tuesday that the priest, the Reverend Peter Kiarie, had groped him at least three times on the day trip to Rockaway that had been arranged by the boy’s mother. He testified that the priest had taken him to Beach 116 Street and had put his hand down his pants on the beach. He also testified that the man had fondled him in an unidentified restaurant on that street and in a grocery store.

The Priest, however, testified on Wednesday that he never mistreated the child.

"While you were at the restaurant, did you ever touch the boy," the priest’s lawyer, Salvatore Canonico.

"No," the priest answered.

"Did you ever tell him that you wanted to touch him?"

"I have no reason to ask him that, so no," the priest responded.

Canonico argued in his closing that the boy’s testimony that the beach was almost empty made no sense.

"This is the middle of June in Rockaway," the attorney said. "Did you ever find a spot on the beach that was 150 feet away from anybody else?"

Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Applebaum said in his closing referring to the young boy, "He told you what happened and it has the ring of truth to it. I suggest to you that is because it is the truth."

"You might find it an unhappy duty to find him guilty," he added, "but it is your duty."

Kiarie is free on $50 thousand bail, which was raised by the religious order he represents.

At press time on Thursday, the jury was still deliberating.

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