Former Franciscan friar convicted of child sex abuse in 1990s

GREENWOOD, Mississippi (AP) — A former Franciscan friar was convicted Wednesday of sexually abusing an elementary school student in the 1990s at a Catholic school in Mississippi.

A Leflore County jury deliberated less than an hour before convicting Paul West, 62, of one count of sexual assault and one count of lust gratification, the Greenwood Commonwealth reported.

West was accused of sexually abusing La Jarvis Love, now 39. Circuit Judge Ashley Hines sentenced West to 30 years on the first count and 15 years on the second count, to be served consecutively.

Love began to cry when the verdict was read.

“I want to thank the state. I want to thank everyone who represented us,” Love said. “I just want to thank God, the provider, the creator. He restored my faith today. I really appreciate it and I still believe in it.

Gaunt and leaning on a walker, West made no comment as he was escorted by deputies to the Leflore County Civic Center, where the two-day trial was held.

As The Associated Press first reported in 2019, La Jarvis Love and her cousin, Joshua Love, now 38, had accused West of numerous instances of sexual abuse while they were college students. at St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood.

Both Loves testified on Tuesday to repeated abuse by West from the fourth grade. They testified that the abuse happened both at school and during trips to New York and Wisconsin, where the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are based. West was a member of the religious order.

West was also charged with two counts of abusing Joshua Love. It was not immediately clear why the jury did not act on those charges.

A third man, Joshua Love’s younger brother Raphael Love, also alleged that West sexually assaulted him. He reported the abuse to church authorities in 1998, after which West returned to Wisconsin and left the order.

Mark Belenchia, volunteer state coordinator for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said church officials should have taken more decisive action after learning of Rafael Love’s allegations.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Belenchia said. “This should have happened 20 years ago.”

West has been held in the Leflore County, Mississippi, jail since September 2020, when he was extradited from his home state of Wisconsin to face two counts of sexual assault and to two counts of lust satisfaction. He pleaded not guilty.

Jarvis Love now lives in Senatobia, Mississippi, with his wife and four children. He identified West in the courtroom as his attacker and said it was the first time he had seen him in person in over 20 years.

La Jarvis Love testified that he was in third grade when he first met West, who was his PE teacher. West later became principal of the school, Love said, and received permission from Love’s grandmother to use corporal punishment, such as paddling.

La Jarvis Love said the sexual abuse began when he was in fourth grade, with touching, groping and what he called “extra friendly” physical activity. The abuse lasted until eighth grade, he said. He also said that West started calling him at his office, showing him pornography on West’s computer and fondling him. La Jarvis Love testified that the abuse included oral sex and anal penetration.

La Jarvis Love said his grandmother allowed him to do various jobs at school, which he says gave West more opportunities to abuse him. He said the only person he told about the abuse was his grandmother, who confronted West but was told nothing unusual was going on.

He said the abuse left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

When West’s attorney, Wallie Stuckey, asked him why he hadn’t told anyone, La Jarvis Love said he feared West.

“When you’re treated, you think you’re fine,” La Jarvis Love said.

Joshua Love, who lives in Greenwood, said West set himself up as a mentor and started abusing him when he was in fourth grade. He also said his grandmother gave West permission to paddle him and said it started in 1996.

Joshua Love said the first case of abuse he remembers happened in the school cafeteria, where West would pick him up for misbehavior. He said West excused the cafeteria workers before taking him to a back room to pet him.

Joshua Love said the abuse included oral sex, anal penetration and showing him pornography. He also said that West tried to get him to perform sex acts with La Jarvis Love while on a trip to New York.

The two cousins ​​testified that they never spoke to each other about the violence at the time.

Joshua Love alleged that West threatened to kill him if he told anyone about the abuse. He said he didn’t know La Jarvis Love had been abused until he told church officials about five years ago.

After Joshua testified, the prosecution closed their case. The defense declined to call witnesses and West declined to testify.

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