Delaware Jury Issues $41 Million Verdict For Navy Officer In Priest Sex Abuse Case

Friday, March 30th 2007, 8:29 pm
By: News On 6

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) _ A jury awarded $41 million Friday to a Navy officer who said a Roman Catholic priest sexually abused him hundreds of times as a teen.

Jurors awarded Cmdr. Kenneth Whitwell $6 million in compensatory damages and $35 million in punitive damages.

Whitwell, 39, claimed the Rev. Edward J. Smith raped and sodomized him more than 230 times over several years at Archmere Academy, and that church officials did nothing to stop it. The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Bishop Michael Saltarelli and the high school were dismissed from the lawsuit last year.

It was unclear how much he may be able to collect. Thomas Neuberger, a lawyer for Whitwell, said he plans to appeal the ruling to dismiss the diocese, bishop and school, and said Smith inherited money from his family and is independently wealthy.

``We expect that we will collect every penny that he has hidden away,'' he said.

Whitwell won a default judgment against Smith in January after Smith failed to respond to the lawsuit. Smith, who cannot be prosecuted criminally because the statute of limitations has expired, did not attend the hearing or return a telephone message left for him at the priory where he lives.

While it is The Associated Press' policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual abuse in most cases, Whitwell has conducted public interviews about his legal proceedings and has taken a public stance in support of state legislation that would repeal the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse.

Whitwell, an optometrist stationed at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., said he repressed any memory of his sexual abuse until 2000, when it surfaced unexpectedly during a heated argument with his wife.

``Fr. Smith's abuse of Kenneth Whitwell while he was a student at Archmere is despicable,'' the school said Friday in a news release iterating its apology but noting that the school did not learn of the allegations until 2004.