Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Lexington man gets 30 years for killing pedophile priest

LEXINGTON, Ky. - A Lexington man who fatally beat a retired priest and convicted sex offender with a pickax was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a judge received a letter from four of the cleric's victims.

Fayette Circuit Judge Gary Payne could have given Jason Anthony Russell, 28, life in prison without parole for murdering the Rev. Joseph Pilger, 78. Russell avoided a possible death sentence by agreeing last month to life without parole.

Under the sentence handed down Friday, Russell would be eligible for parole in 25 years.

The judge received a letter from Michael Long, now of Austin, Texas, that said Russell had "done a society a favor" by killing a "pedophile monster that preyed upon innocent little boys while in a position of authority and calling him self a man of God."

Long also wrote on behalf of three relatives who were also molested by Pilger.

"The damage a pedophile inflicts on young children is life-changing and lifelong," Long said in his letter. "The entire emotional and developmental wiring as a child is changed forever. Pedophiles are nothing but human debris. I have, for years, wished to do what Mr. Russell did."

In 1995, Pilger pleaded guilty to abusing four boys in Western Kentucky when he was their pastor during the late 1960s at St. Francis Borgia Roman Catholic Church in Sturgis. In exchange for the confession, prosecutors recommended probation.

Long, who sued Pilger in the early 1990s, wrote that he now regrets not fighting the plea deal.

"If we would have been more adamant about his sentence, we would not be writing you now, and Mr. Russell would not be where he is as well," Long said. "So you see, even now after his death, I still feel guilt."

Pilger was found dead on Dec. 3, 2003.

Russell, who alleges he was sexually abused as a child, had been released from prison about two months before the slaying and lived with Pilger.

Russell has said he decided to kill him after the retired priest offered $5,000 to have sex with Russell's then-6-year-old son. Russell also claims that he had twice walked in on the retired priest masturbating with photos of Russell's son and catalog clippings of other children.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn objected to the judge's sentence.

"You have put us in a situation of knowing our recommendations are meaningless," Red Corn said. "And in a position of making it difficult to make recommendations in the future."

The judge said he agreed with prosecutors that a harsh sentence was appropriate, but not necessarily life in prison.

"Knowing the facts, knowing everything involved, at least what little I know, I don't think that is an appropriate sentence," Payne said.

State law does not require judges to abide by recommendations from juries or, in the case of guilty pleas, prosecutors. They frequently accept them, however.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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