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Charges Dismissed Against Priest

Times Staff Writer

Retired priest George Neville Rucker walked into Los Angeles County Superior Court facing life in prison Monday for allegedly molesting a dozen girls and walked out a free man.

Rucker, 82, had been plucked off a cruise ship bound for Russia last fall after he was charged. But prosecutors dropped the charges in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down California’s effort to prosecute molesters in older cases. The charges were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Robert J. Perry at the district attorney’s request.

Rucker is at least the third priest to see his case dismissed.

“Once the ruling came down our hands were tied. It is very hard and frustrating. There is nothing we can say that can make the victims feel better,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Christina Fleming said. “We charged him with a dozen victims but there are 29 or 30 victims in this case. It’s very disappointing.”

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Prosecutors have determined that only incidents since Jan. 1, 1988, can be charged under the high court’s interpretation of the law. Rucker allegedly abused girls between 1947 and 1977.

Donald Steier, Rucker’s attorney, said the priest was relieved at the decision. “We said from Day 1 these allegations were constitutionally defective,” Steier said. “It was simply a statement of 200 years of law that says that government is prohibited from changing its own set of rules after the fact in order to secure a conviction.”

Rucker was escorted out a back exit by sheriff’s deputies to avoid the media and some of his alleged victims.

Tammy Helm, who claimed Rucker molested her, said the decision to release Rucker was “a travesty of justice.” “The fight is not over yet. We’re going to pursue those who covered up for Rucker in the civil courts,” she said. Helm previously received a $20,000 settlement.

In 1970 Rucker was transferred to a Los Angeles parish three years after Helm and another then-9-year-old girl told El Segundo police that the cleric molested them while he was at St. Anthony Church. Rucker was removed from the ministry last year, 35 years after then-Bishop Timothy Manning persuaded Helm’s mother not to pursue criminal charges, assuring her that the church would “take care of the matter,” according to a police report at the time.

Prosecutors have already dropped charges against two other priests -- John Anthony Salazar and Matthew Michael Sprouffske -- and plan to seek dismissal in another eight cases.


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