SAN FRANCISCO — A California judge dismissed all 224 sexual molestation charges against a defrocked San Francisco priest Thursday in a ruling prosecutors said was based on a "hypertechnical interpretation" of state law.
The decision, unless overturned on appeal, means San Francisco County prosecutors cannot try Msgr. Patrick O'Shea, 67, on charges of molesting nine boys in the 1960s and 1970s.
The O'Shea case has zigzagged though the courts since its filing in 1995, a year after the California Legislature approved a law allowing prosecutors to file molestation charges even after the six-year statute of limitations expired.
Prosecutors did so in this case, but a state appeals court dismissed it in 1997, saying the law did not apply retroactively. Lawmakers then reworked the legislation to make it retroactive and to allow prosecutors to refile past charges if they were first filed under the 1994 law.
But Superior Court Judge David Garcia, citing a January decision from the California Supreme Court on a different sex-abuse case, said prosecutors could not refile the charges because an appeals court had dismissed them.
"It's a terrible thing," said prosecutor Linda Klee, who said Garcia's decision was based on a "hypertechnical interpretation of the law."
Defense attorneys said they would immediately seek O'Shea's release from San Francisco jail, where he is being held in lieu of $5 million bail.