The retrial of former Mahwah minister Curtis Franklin in Hackensack on charges of having sex with a teenaged congregant begins with opening arguments today, after a judge last week rejected a bid for a change of venue.
As CLIFFVIEW PILOT reported exclusively on Friday, defense attorney Benjamin Morton argued that there was a great deal of publicity during Franklin’s previous two trials — one of which led to a conviction that put him behind bars for several years and the other resulting in a mistrial.
Morton said he also wanted to to protect Franklin’s 12-year old daughter, whose family was upset after a daily newspaper published a photograph of her crying in court last fall.
Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian denied the request but granted two others — including one to suppress the fact that Franklin was accused of, but not formally charged with, having sex with the alleged victim in Oregon when she was 14.
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Kenneth Ralph contended that the Oregon allegations are valuable to his case because they show an existing relationship between the two, one that he said “knows no bounds.”
However, Jerejian said these were “long ago and far away” and “hard to defend against.”
Having to explain why no charges were brought after authorities in Oregon were notified 14 years ago “could become a trial within a trial and extremely confusing to the jury,” the judge said. “Them having sex in New Jersey still tells part of the story.”
Franklin was brought to the Bergen County Jail two weeks ago from the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, where he is serving an eight-year prison sentence for having sex with the woman’s sister, who is also underage.
His prosecution in the second case ended in a mistrial in 2011 after a juror researched its history online and shared the findings with fellow jurors through printouts.
A father of two who was a reverend at the Mahwah Full Gospel Church, Franklin already is facing lifetime parole as a registered Megan’s Law offender when he eventually is released from state custody. Morton told CLIFFVIEW PILOT that Franklin is appealing the verdict on the grounds that certain mitigating evidence wasn’t allowed during the trial.
STORY by Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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