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SEX ABUSE ALLEGED AT HOLY CROSS ACADEMY
POLICE SAY THE COMPLAINT SURFACED JUST AS THEY WERE INVESTIGATING THE MARCH 25 MURDER OF A NUN AT THE MIAMI SCHOOL.
Published: Friday, April 6, 2001
By ELLIS BERGER Miami Bureau
Police investigating the stabbing death of a nun at Holy Cross Academy are also looking into an allegation of sexual abuse at the parochial school in Kendall.
The same Monday that homicide detectives arrested a young monk in training, Mykaylo Kofel, in the murder of Sister Michelle Lewis, sexual crimes detectives opened a sexual battery investigation, Miami-Dade police said Thursday.
Police would not say any more about the abuse case, which surfaced during the homicide investigation. A source close to the investigation said the sexual battery allegation was not leveled at the nun or the young monk.
Both prosecution and defense attorneys said officials at the academy, operated by the Byzantine Catholic Church, have blocked their efforts to question potential witnesses in the murder case. The school’s insurance carrier has hired private attorneys for each potential witness, including another nun and a school maintenance man.
Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine said the church’s intransigence further complicates the case, but she will now subpoena witnesses.
Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi said she feared the school would send home four potential witnesses — all Ukrainian nationals, like Kofel, who were recruited into the monastic training program at the school. On Thursday, Circuit Judge Manuel Crespo granted Georgi’s motion asking that the students not be allowed to leave the country without court permission. They are Yosyp Lembek, 17, Vasyl Kopych, 18, Sasha Korsak, 19, and Petro Terenta, 20. Georgi said their testimony is “material to defendant’s preparation of the case.”
Lewis, 39, was found March 25, stabbed to death in the convent home she shared with another nun on the Holy Cross campus, 12425 SW 72nd St. Police said Kofel, 18, confessed to the murder. He was arrested the next day.
Prosecutors on Thursday announced in court that they will seek the death penalty against Kofel, who has lived at the school since he was 14.
“That is always subject to change, even up to the last moment of the day of the trial,” Levine said, adding that the final decision will be made by her boss, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
At Kofel’s arraignment Thursday — moved up from the original April 16 date to avoid scheduling conflicts with the religious holidays — Georgi pleaded not guilty to a two-count grand jury indictment charging him with first-degree murder and armed burglary with assault or battery. Levine dropped a third charge by police accusing Kofel of using a weapon in the commission of a felony.
There are now six private lawyers involved in the case, in addition to the prosecution and defense attorneys. The latest to be retained by the school and staff are James McGuirk, Terry Lenaman, and Yery Marrero.
McGuirk, a former prosecutor, says he was asked to assist Joseph Blonsky, Holy Cross’ regular attorney and board member, who, he said, is not familiar with criminal proceedings. Lenaman and Marrero, both former assistant public defenders, are representing two potential witnesses, a maintenance worker and another nun.
The carrier, Church Mutual Insurance Company, of Merrill, Wis., is also paying to have attorneys Mel Black and Richard Hersch represent Abbot Gregory F.G. Wendt and Rev. Damian J.A. Gibault, respectively Holy Cross’ headmaster and principal.
Church Mutual Chief Counsel John Cleary said the company has offered coverage for sexual molestation since 1986 and receives about five such complaints a week from its thousands of clients around the country. He would not discuss the case or the allegations.
“This is an extraordinary situation,” Blonsky said. “No one really knows how to proceed. In essence, the Holy Cross family has lost two of its members. Everyone is in shock and confused. In an abundance of caution, the school’s insurance company has provided an attorney for everyone. We all pray that the situation will resolve itself.”
Blonsky said the death of Sister Michelle, “a very special person,” has taken a heavy toll on Wendt, who has diabetes and a heart condition. “He is in deep mourning and under doctor’s orders to cut back on his administrative duties,” Blonsky said.
But complying with the doctor’s directives has been difficult, Blonsky said, because Wendt has been preparing to lead a memorial service for the nun today in the Holy Cross shrine.
Ellis Berger can be reached at [email protected] or 810-305-5004.
Copyright 2001, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL