A state appeals court overturned a trial judge’s finding that convicted child molester and defrocked priest Daniel McCormack can be held longer than his sentence.
A three-judge panel in the Illinois First District Appellate Court unanimously decided the prosecution failed to prove McCormack’s mental disorder would likely cause him to reoffend, according to court records filed Tuesday.
McCormack, one of Chicago’s most notorious and recent offenders in the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal, completed his five-year sentence in 2009 for molesting five boys in St. Agatha’s parish, where he worked as a priest, teacher and basketball coach. He has remained in custody at a downstate detention facility for sex offenders since.
In 2017, Judge Dennis Porter declared McCormack a sexually violent person who should remain indefinitely in a state facility for sex offenders.
But the appellate court reversed that decision, saying prosecutors “failed to prove McCormack’s mental disorder renders him substantially likely to reoffend.”
During the 2017 bench trial, Dr. Angelique Stanislaus, a psychiatrist and the state’s witness, and Dr. Raymond Wood, a psychologist who served as the defense expert, both concluded that McCormack had pedophilic disorder.
But while Wood said that McCormack had a “below average” risk of reoffending, Stanislaus said the former Chicago priest’s likelihood of reoffending is “substantially probable, meaning much more likely than not,” according to the court’s filing.
McCormack’s defense argued that the prosecution failed to prove the former priest qualifies as a sexually violent person in two ways: One, it didn’t prove how any mental disorder McCormack may have would create a risk for him to reoffend, and two, if his mental disorder does create a risk, the prosecution didn’t prove “substantial probability” that he would commit future sexual violence acts.
The three-judge panel ruled the prosecution “left too much to inference when questioning Stanislaus.”
“We agree there is a probability that McCormack’s mental disorder could cause him to reoffend, but Stanislaus failed to offer an explanation as to why the risk is ‘substantial,’” the court said in its decision. “Even taking the evidence in light most favorable to the State, it fails to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that McCormack is a sexually violent person as defined in the Act.”
McCormack’s attorney Michael Johnson said he was “grateful that the appellate court followed the law and... held the State to standards for appellate review of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The court’s decision won’t be final until a mandate is issued, which will be in 35 days, Johnson said. During that time, the attorney general could file a petition for a leave to appeal the ruling to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Office of Attorney General is reviewing the decision and evaluating its options, spokeswoman Annie Thompson said.
“It is worth noting, however, that following his most recent evaluation in July 2020 — which is required annually under the state’s Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act — an expert evaluator found Daniel McCormack to be sexually violent,” Thompson said in a statement.
The archdiocese has paid out more than $20 million to settle lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by McCormack, the Sun-Times previously reported.