Paul West and Wallie Stuckey

Paul West, left, confers with his court-appointed attorney, Wallie Stuckey, during a brief court appearance in Greenwood Wednesday. West, a former Franciscan friar, pleaded not guilty to charges that allege he sexually abused in the 1990s two male cousins, La Jarvis and Joshua Love, who were students at St. Francis of Assisi School in Greenwood. West worked as a teacher and later principal at the Catholic elementary school.

Angered, but not surprised.

La Jarvis Love

La Jarvis Love

Joshua Love

Joshua Love

That was the reaction of cousins Joshua and La Jarvis Love to Wednesday’s not-guilty pleas by Paul West, the former Franciscan accused of sexually molesting them in the 1990s while they were students at Greenwood’s St Francis of Assisi School.

“Brother Paul is lying. There is no way we would bring up allegations if that didn’t happen,” said Joshua Love. “That is crazy. We are not coming forward with make-believe.”

“He knows what he did, and for him to plead not guilty ... he has the devil in him,” added La Jarvis Love.

West, 60, entered the not-guilty pleas in a brief court hearing before Circuit Judge Richard Smith. Dressed in an orange prison  jumpsuit and wearing a facial mask due to the coronavirus outbreak, West was returned after the arraignment to the Leflore County Jail, where he has been held since his extradition from Wisconsin last week.

West was indicted by a Leflore County grand jury in August on two counts of sexual battery and two counts of gratification of lust. If he is convicted, he could spend the rest of his life behind bars. Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill said he expected a trial date to be set next week.

The indictments accuse West of sexually abusing the Loves, now 37, when they were students at the Catholic elementary school where West worked as a teacher and later principal. The abuse allegedly occurred both on school grounds and on out-of-state school trips to New York and Wisconsin.

West has also been accused of, but not charged with, abusing Joshua Love’s younger brother, Raphael Love. In addition, West is facing a charge in Wisconsin of second-degree sexual assault of a child, according to The Associated Press.

He is being represented by Greenwood defense attorney Wallie Stuckey. After Wednesday’s hearing, Stuckey said he had just been appointed to the case by the court the day before and met West for the first time at the arraignment. He said he could not comment further. The prosecution is being handled by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.

When reached for a statement, Colby Jordan, a spokeswoman with the agency, said it does not comment on active cases.

Don Lucas

Lucas

Mark Belenchia

Belenchia

La Jarvis and Joshua Love did not attend the hearing, but an advocate for victims of clergy abuse, Mark Belenchia, did wait outside the courtroom at the Leflore County Justice Center. Belenchia, state coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he had intended to watch the proceeding but was not allowed to due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Belenchia said he was “happy that this criminal is off the street and children are safer,” but he continued to criticize the Catholic Diocese of Jackson and the religious order to which West had belonged for not forcefully addressing the abuse at the time it was allegedly occurring.

“This is 22 years late, because the church was made aware of this, the diocese and the Franciscan order were aware of Paul West and his shenanigans in 1998, and they chose to take a different direction,” Belenchia said. “I think it was the wrong thing, and it caused a lot of pain.”

The Jackson diocese publicly disclosed in 2019 that allegations of sexual abuse lodged against West and another friar, Brother Donald Lucas, were credible. Lucas died of an apparent suicide in 1999; West relocated from Greenwood to Wisconsin the year before and left the Franciscan order in 2002.

In early 2019, Joshua and La Jarvis Love each received a $15,000 settlement from the Franciscan Friars of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province, but they have since contested the fairness of the payout in a lawsuit filed in New York.

They have accused Franciscan leaders of taking advantage of them because they are poor and Black.

Raphael Love declined the settlement offer. He is currently serving two life sentences in a Tennessee prison for a double homicide he committed as a juvenile.

Both Joshua and La Jarvis Love said they plan to testify against West if the case comes to trial.

“I am going to stand on the stand in front of all my peers, and I will confess everything he did to me,” said La Jarvis Love, who now lives in Senatobia.

Joshua Love said he, too, would be a witness, but the Greenwood resident did not want to comment further about the prospect on the advice of his legal counsel.

The Loves both said they are concerned that race could be a factor in the outcome of the case.  “He is a white dude,” La Jarvis Love said of West. “That’s what he does. He thinks he is going to get his way, be able to tell people anything, and people are going to believe him because he is old ... .”

“I know how the system works,” added Joshua Love.

“We are in a black-and-white world. We cannot deny that; we cannot sugarcoat that.”

• Contact Adam Bakst at 581-7233 or abakst@gwcommonwealth.com. Twitter: @AdamBakst_GWCW

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