Former RI priest charged with sexual assault deemed incompetent to stand trial

PROVIDENCE — A former Rhode Island Catholic priest accused of sexual assault in the 1980s has been found unfit to stand trial, ending criminal charges against him.

Edward Kelley, 79, has dementia and is unable to understand or assist in the proceedings against him, an expert who questioned him testified in Superior Court on Friday.

Dr. Barry Wall, director of forensic services at Eleanor Slater Public Hospital, told Magistrate John F. McBurney III that Kelley’s dementia is so severe that he only knows his own name. His condition is permanent, Wall said.

Kelley was indicted by a Rhode Island grand jury in May 2021 on three counts of first-degree sexual assault. He was extradited from South Carolina, where he was living at the time. The charges date back to the early 1980s, long before the dementia diagnosis. The case arose out of Attorney General Peter Neronha’s ongoing review of clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. That review has now resulted in three criminal cases, including Kelley’s.

The finding of mental incompetence means a criminal trial will not go forward, but it does not mean Kelley will be free. Kelley will still be held in the medical unit at Eleanor Slater Hospital, where he is currently. His condition is so fragile that he cannot live in a regular hospital unit, Wall said. Kelley will now likely be civilly certified — in other words, ordered by a civil court for treatment. It could happen at the state hospital or a private facility, but Kelley would be subject to a court order for treatment.

Under Rhode Island law, lawsuits cannot proceed against people who cannot understand the proceedings against them or assist in their own defense. It’s different from an insanity defence, where a person is found not guilty because of a condition they had when a crime was committed.

A full account of Kelley’s postings in the Diocese of Providence was not immediately available, but according to Providence Journal records, he had postings at St. Aidan in Cumberland, St. Agatha in Woonsocket, Our Lady of Consolation in Pawtucket and St. John the Evangelist in North Smithfield in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1992, Kelley resigned after just five months at St. Aidan’s Parish in Cumberland at the request of then-Bishop Louis Gelineau, according to an article in The Journal at the time. The diocese said “a division had developed in the parish because of the priest’s style of leadership,” according to the Journal report.

Kelley left Rhode Island in 1993, according to the Diocese of Providence, and later served as an active-duty U.S. Army chaplain.

In 2015, Kelley, then in South Carolina, was removed from his post for “having a relationship with an adult woman not conforming to an appropriate state of life for a priest”, said Maria Aselage, spokeswoman for the diocese. of Charleston, in a statement. email last year.

Friday’s finding of lack of jurisdiction came at the request of Kelley’s attorney, Kara Hoopis Manosh. The attorney general’s office did not object. Wall testified that Kelley’s diagnosis history goes back to before the criminal case began. Because of this, Wall said during cross-examination by a prosecutor that he was not concerned that Kelley was faking it. In fact, Wall said, Kelley’s condition has only gotten worse: where before he paranoidly lashed out at guards because of his condition, now he’s so docile he can’t do anything. that.

Brian Amaral can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @bamaral44.

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