Convicted pastor sets himself up to lose — again

Author: Sam Hemingway
Date Published: 01/08/2003

Emmanuel Koveos is back in Burlington today, and this time he’s back in court on his own volition. The question is why.

Koveos, who lives in Massachusetts, was pastor at the Dormition of the Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church in Burlington when he was convicted in 1998 of fondling a 12-year-old girl during Greek lessons at the church.

The evidence against him at trial was solid, so solid that Judge James Crucitti would bemoan Koveos’ “complete denial” as he sentenced him to six months in jail. “I have no doubt about your guilt,” Crucitti said.

After all, Koveos admitted early on to police he groped the girl and wrote her an apology letter, things he later recanted but that were used as evidence against him at trial.

Then, just before his trial, a 9-year-old friend of the victim thought to have no knowledge of the incident provided support for the girl’s claims in a court deposition.

As we’ve learned from the Catholic Church scandal, denial is a powerful force in the religion business. Koveos not only continues to maintain his innocence; he blames everyone but himself for his criminal conviction.

He was found guilty because the girl and the cops lied, he said at his trial. Then, in his unsuccessful appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, he blamed the verdict on the alleged misconduct of a juror and flawed rulings by Crucitti.

Now, in a post-conviction relief hearing that begins this morning at Chittenden County Superior Court, he says he was found guilty because his trial lawyer, Karen Shingler, screwed up.

Shingler, in a interview, defended her handling of the case. Lawyer Paul Volk, Koveos’ local attorney, said Koveos would not comment on the petition. “He adamantly asserts he didn’t do it,” Volk said, referring to the fondling charge.

Most of the claims against Shingler are ones recycled from previous attempts to have the verdict overturned. The strongest contention, that Shingler didn’t file enough objections at trial to keep all of Koveos’ appellate options open, probably deserves a look.

None of it, though, takes away from the fact that Koveos remains guilty as charged. In fact, the harder he argues that Shingler goofed up, the more guilty he looks.

Take the matter of the surprise deposition testimony by the 9-year-old that backed up the victim’s allegations.

Koveos thinks Shingler made mistakes in questioning the witness, but that ignores what the child said. Are we to believe the little girl conspired with her friend to lie about what happened? No way.

Or take the claim that all this was a terrible misunderstanding, that Koveos was a “Greek guy” who was harmlessly “touchy-feely” in his demeanor.

Shingler wanted to use that defense but she couldn’t. Why? Because she knew that if she did, Crucitti would allow the prosecutor to put a New Hampshire woman on the stand to say Koveos’ idea of “touchy-feely” was showing her a porn movie and having her kiss and touch him improperly.

Then there’s the “exorcism” angle. Koveos claims in his post-conviction relief petition that Shingler wouldn’t let him say the victim’s family asked him to perform an exorcism on her, something the family has flatly denied.

Why did Koveos want his exorcism claim brought up? According to the court papers, Koveos believed his exorcism claim “could have easily explained the … innocuous touching” of the girl. No wonder Shingler demurred.

Koveos will likely lose at today’s hearing, just as he’s lost at every other juncture in this case. In late 1999, the Greek Orthodox Church defrocked him. In September, the church wrote to the victim, supporting her courage and apologizing for Koveos’ “abhorrent and criminal behavior.”

“Your family has been very brave in dealing with this,” wrote Bishop Savas of Troas in the Sept. 23 letter. “By your example, you have helped prevent future occurrences of this kind.”

The same can hardly be said of Koveos.

Sam Hemingway is the Free Press state news columnist. His columns appear Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. If you have a comment or tip, phone 660-1850, or e-mail shemingway@bfp.burlington freepress.com. For past columns, go to www.burlingtonfreepress.com

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