A Douglas County judge has shortened the time frame in which Douglas County prosecutors can pursue sex crime charges in a trial against a former Lawrence church youth leader.
An attorney for Christopher L. Cormack said Friday the decision from Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild was a victory for the defense.
“I feel like it’s a pretty big ruling because it’s a defensible period of time,” defense attorney Hatem Chahine said.
But Douglas County prosecutors said Friday they still intend to take the case to a trial.
“We plan on proceeding on this matter as allowed in the judge’s opinion,” District Attorney Charles Branson said.
Cormack, who lives in Abilene, is a former youth ministry coordinator at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. He faces one count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child because prosecutors accuse him of having a sexual relationship beginning in 1999 with a girl when she was 15 and he was 28. Prosecutors were relying on an earlier ruling from Fairchild that excluded four years when Cormack had left Kansas from the state’s five-year time period under the state’s statute of
limitations. In Kansas, for most crimes, charges must be filed within five years of the alleged offense.
But Chahine had Cormack testify at a hearing Tuesday in which he made a chart and said he returned to Kansas for a total of 321 days to visit family from 2003 to 2007. During those years he mostly lived in California and Washington, where he attended seminary. He was charged in 2008 after the girl made the allegations to authorities.
Chahine said he believed adding those days when Cormack was in Kansas meant the five-year statute of limitations had elapsed. Fairchild in his ruling applied those days toward the limits under the five-year period, but he found that prosecutors still had a short window to try to prove to jurors the alleged acts occurred — between Feb. 2, 2000, to March 17, 2000. Prosecutors alleged the acts began June 1, 1999.
A jury in 2008 convicted Cormack for having a sexual relationship with the underage girl, but a Kansas Court of Appeals panel in March awarded him a new trial because jury instructions were not specific enough. The girl testified at the first trial the two had a sexual relationship that began at a youth retreat in July 1999 and continued until after her 16th birthday. Cormack has testified the sexual relationship did not begin until after she turned 16, the state’s age of consent.
Branson said after Fairchild’s ruling on Friday that prosecutors would not be able to present evidence about any alleged incidents that occurred prior to Feb. 2, 2000, but he said he was confident they could still get a conviction.
“There’s nothing in this ruling that prevents us from retrying the case,” Branson said.
Chahine said the narrower time frame would benefit the defense.
“He’s maintained his innocence,” Chahine said.
Cormack remains free on bond. A new trial is scheduled for September, although Chahine said it would likely be delayed.