A retired Catholic priest accused of molesting six boys in Ventura County during the late 1960s and 1970s pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of child molestation Monday after a judge denied a defense motion to throw out the case.
Attorneys for Father Carl Sutphin, 70, had argued that it is unfair and unconstitutional for the government to file sex abuse charges after so many years.
"It is difficult for anyone to recall what they did at specific times on specific days so long ago," lawyer Kay Duffy said after the hearing in Ventura County Superior Court. "We have charges from 30 years ago. We have a very elderly defendant. It's difficult to prepare a defense."
But prosecutors countered that the state law repealing the time limit for filing certain sex abuse charges has been upheld by the California Supreme Court, and allowed them to bring charges against Sutphin after alleged victims came forward during the last year.
California is the only state to have repealed its time limit for filing charges for sex crimes against children.
The state Legislature enacted the law in 1994. It is now being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and a ruling is expected as early as next month.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Doug Ridley said Monday that he feels confident the high court will uphold the state law and find that a repeal of the statute of limitations on certain sex cases does not violate constitutional protections.
But he also conceded that an unfavorable ruling would probably result in dismissal of charges against Sutphin.
The retired priest is accused of molesting six boys, ages 7 to 12, between 1968 and 1978 while serving as an associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalen Church in Camarillo and as a chaplain at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard.
He was arrested April 4 at his 96-year-old mother's home in Ventura on suspicion of molesting four boys.
He was scheduled to be arraigned in late April, but the matter was postponed after Ridley filed a second criminal complaint involving two more victims.
A judge consolidated the cases and set arraignment for May 5, but that hearing was postponed after Sutphin suffered a near stroke and underwent medical tests at St. John's.
On Monday, Sutphin, who is free on $200,000 bail, appeared in court with attorneys James Farley and Duffy, who are representing him at no cost. Farley entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of the priest after Judge Art Gutierrez denied the motion to dismiss the case. Gutierrez set a preliminary hearing for June 9.
Sutphin most recently worked at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles and at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels while it was under construction.