Some felons will be let go

July 01, 2003 11:00 pm

By AMY LINDBLOM

Because of a United States Supreme Court ruling last week, three middle-aged, self-admitted child molesters who committed their crimes in Tuolumne County will be set free.

On June 26, in a 5-4 vote, U.S. Supreme Court justices overturned a 1993 California law that allowed prosecutors to try child molesters even though the crimes occurred decades earlier.

The justices ruled that under the U.S. Constitution, prosecutors cannot retroactively erase statutes of limitations.

Because of the ruling, John Senser, 54, of Sonora and Jeffrey Koski, 48, of Sparks, Nev. will soon be set free. Just when is unclear. John Celestre, 59, of Sugar Pine will have his sentence shortened.

All three were prosecuted under California Penal Code 803(g), which allowed for prosecution of molestation cases as long as charges were filed within one year of the crime being reported to law enforcement. The law changed the statute of limitations for child molestation and paved the way for the prosecution and convictions of hundreds of suspects in California.

Senser last year pleaded guilty to molesting a 3-year-old girl 13 years ago and was sentenced to eight months in the county jail and five years' probation.

Celestre molested a 6-year-old boy seven years ago and in December 2002, was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty to a molestation in 2002 and must still serve time for that offense, said Michael Knowles, Tuolumne County assistant district attorney.

Koski earlier this year admitted molesting his 13-year-old nephew more than 18 years ago and was sentenced to three years in prison.

"Eventually, all three cases will be dismissed," Knowles said. "Because of this ruling, there will be no more prosecution of old child abuse cases. And what's sad is that child molestation has always been a crime, but the defendants can get off because of the statute of limitations."

Knowles is especially dismayed about the Koski case because the Nevada man pleaded guilty twice to the crime in two separate plea bargain agreements. In the first, reached in December, Koski pleaded guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence, and specifically gave up his right to appeal.