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Federal Appeals Court Sets Aside Child-P

December 24, 2003

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ An appeals court Tuesday overturned the federal conviction of a defrocked Roman Catholic priest for possessing child pornography, ruling that investigators illegally seized key evidence.

The ruling sets aside a nearly five-year federal prison sentence, but does not affect the 12-year state prison sentence imposed in September on James Beine, for exposing himself to three boys while working as an elementary school counselor.

Beine, 61, was to begin serving the federal sentence after the state term.

In its decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said that investigators lacked a warrant in seizing compact discs, later found to contain child pornography, from a friend of Beine’s.

When approached at his Jefferson County home after Beine’s arrest, Michael Laschober gave investigators a sealed, brown envelope, saying he believed the enclosed discs entrusted to him by Beine contained church and financial records.

Laschober authorized investigators to open the envelope and take the discs with them, signing a consent form. But authorities never sought a warrant to search or seize the discs.

The court said they should have.

Scott Rosenblum, whose St. Louis law firm represents Beine, said Beine was ``thrilled″ when told by telephone of ``obviously the correct decision.″

The government said it was considering an appeal. ``I can tell you we’re disappointed with the decision and don’t agree with it,″ said federal prosecutor Carrie Costantin.

In state court, Beine was convicted in June of four felony counts of sexual misconduct involving a child and was sentenced to 12 years in a Missouri prison.

Beine allegedly exposed himself to the boys at St. Louis’ Patrick Henry School during the 2000-01 school year, when the boys were in the third or fourth grades.

Beine was dismissed from the priesthood in 1977 over allegations of sexual abuse. In the mid-1990s, the Archdiocese of St. Louis paid $110,000 to settle two lawsuits that alleged Beine sexually abused boys more than three decades earlier.

He was a counselor at St. Louis area elementary schools for more than a decade before resigning at the time of his arrest.

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