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New Montana bills aim to remove time limits on charging child molesters, could bring relief for Miles City sex abuse victims

Posted at 5:06 PM, Jan 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:50:26-04

HELENA -There could be some hope for victims who say they were sexually abused by the longtime Miles City school athletic trainer decades ago.

The law could be on their side soon but only if Montana lawmakers can agree.

State lawmakers unveiled a pair of bills this week to remove time limits on taking any legal action against alleged child molesters, saying it’s time for Montana to bring abusers of children to justice.

James Jensen, 78, of Miles City is facing federal charges for coercion. He’s also facing child pornography charges in Custer County.

However, no criminal charges have been filed against Jensen on behalf of 31 men who’ve come forward to say Jensen sexually molested them while attending Custer County High School decades ago.

The alleged abuse began in the mid of 1970s up until Jensen left as a trainer of the high school back in 1998.

Under current law, charges must be brought within 20 years of the victim turning 18.

The bills are being championed by the lawyers for victims, John Heenan of Billings and Dan Rice of Miles City, as a massive civil suit against Jensen moves forward in Custer County.

Heenan said Helena Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell’s House Bill 109 removes the statute of limitations for prosecuting anyone accused of sexually molesting someone under 18.

“There should not be a clock on kids when it comes to justice,” said Dunwell.

“We’ve seen all these abuses, across this state, across this country,” said Heenan. “It’s high time that child molesters and pedophiles stand justice for what they do.”

Dunwell said her bill, if enacted, would be retroactive, meaning that abusers whose crimes occurred more than 20 years ago could be prosecuted.

“It’s not OK that a perpetrator can circle a date on a calendar, post on Facebook, `I’m off the hook,’ and sleep easy for the rest of his or her life, and that child victim, into adulthood, is haunted for a lifetime,” she said.

In addition, Rep. Shane Morigeau, a Democrat from Missoula, is sponsoring House Bill 202, which says victims of child sexual abuse can sue their abusers for damages at any time.

State law now says such lawsuits must be filed within three years of the crime or within three years of when the victim “discovers that the injury was caused” by the abuse.

Heenan said child molesters shouldn’t be able to use the statute of limitations to escape justice.

“(This bill) is to ensure that when these children that are abused become young men and young women, and have the courage to stand up … the doors of justice are open to them,” he said.

Morigeau also said while he and Dunwell are Democrats, the issue is not partisan and should be supported by lawmakers from both parties.

Dunwell’s bill was heard Tuesday morning in the House Judiciary Committee and Morigeau’s bill is scheduled for a hearing Friday.

Story by Andrea Lutz and Mike Dennison, MTN News