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Top Court Reinstates Conviction of Ex-Minister for Molestation : Ruling: Justices restore verdict on former rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. In 1988, he was sentenced to six years for molesting a 7-year-old boy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday reinstated the child molestation conviction of a former Ventura minister, sentenced to state prison in 1988 for molesting a 7-year-old boy in his church office.

Robert E. Henry, who was rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Loma Vista Road, persuaded a Los Angeles federal judge in 1991 to overturn his conviction, arguing that prosecutors performed a “miscarriage of justice” by introducing improper evidence during his Ventura County Superior Court trial.

But the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 vote, restored the conviction, ruling that Henry could not bring his denial-of-due-process claims to the federal court without first raising those claims in state court.

“I guess the message is, if you plan on making a federal case out of something, you at least have to say so,” said Deputy Atty. Gen. David Glassman, who appealed the case to the high court.

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As the case wound its way to the Supreme Court, Henry concluded his prison sentence, according to Ventura attorney George Eskin, who defended Henry at trial.

“The pursuit of this appeal raises legal issues which are of interest only to attorneys and judges,” Eskin said. “It has very little impact on any of the individuals involved in the case except for Mr. Henry, who will now be required to register as a sex offender.”

Eskin stopped representing Henry, who is in his mid-60s, after he was sentenced. The lawyer said he did not know how much of the six-year prison term Henry ended up serving, but believed it was more than three years.

Henry, who was rector at the Episcopal church and served as dean of St. Paul’s Day School, cut ties with the church and moved to San Luis Obispo in 1987 after the district attorney’s office launched an investigation into charges that he molested two boys.

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In 1988, Henry was convicted and sentenced to six years in state prison for molesting one boy. He was acquitted on charges of molesting the second boy.

During Henry’s trial, the father of a former student at an Episcopal school in Pomona testified that Henry was suspected of molesting another child 20 years earlier.

Seizing on that unproven allegation, Henry appealed his conviction, arguing that the testimony violated his due-process rights as protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In 1991, U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi overturned the conviction and ordered Henry released from prison or retried.

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Takasugi ruled that prosecutors should not have introduced testimony of the unproven child molestation allegation.

Two months later, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of Takasugi’s order, returning Henry to the state prison farm in San Luis Obispo County until the appeals court could hear the case. Henry had been returned to the Ventura County Jail.

Last year, the 9th Circuit Court upheld Takasugi’s ruling by a 2-1 vote. That’s when Glassman appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

On Monday, eight of the nine justices agreed with Glassman’s argument that Henry’s appeal should have been denied.

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In its unsigned opinion, the high court said Henry forfeited his right to raise his due-process claims in federal court because he failed to raise those claims in state court.

“If a habeas petitioner wishes to claim that an evidentiary ruling at a state court trial denied him the due process of law guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, he must say so, not only in federal court but in state court,” the Supreme Court ruled.

Glassman said the court made its decision without hearing oral arguments.

“Apparently the court saw that it was a very clear case,” he said.

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Neither Henry nor his appellate attorney could be reached for comment.

The current rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church declined to comment on the case, saying he had not reviewed the Supreme Court decision.

Ventura County Assistant Dist. Atty. Kevin McGee said he, too, wants to review that decision.

“We will be looking forward to seeing what their opinion says,” McGee said. “But we are very gratified that the conviction was reinstated.”

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