Ex-Milford priest convicted again of sex assault
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by Ralph Ortega/The Star-Ledger
For the second time, a former Milford priest has been convicted of abusing a child.
A jury deliberated less than three hours before finding John M. Banko guilty today of sexually abusing a young boy between September 1994 and January 1995.
Banko, 62, is already serving 15 years on a 2006 conviction for abusing an altar boy after Sunday Mass twice in the 1990s. At that time, the Roman Catholic priest was pastor at St. Edward's the Confessor in Milford.
The latest conviction could add 20 years to his prison sentence.
Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Dawn Solari told the jury at the start of the trial last week that the victim was 9 years old when the abuse began and had been attending religious instruction at the church.
The victim, now 23 and living out of state, testified that he was abused by Banko in a locked bathroom in the church's parish center. The abuse happened several times, the victim told jurors.
The jury reviewed videotaped testimony from an investigator who interviewed the victim before delivering its verdict just before noon.
The investigator, during her testimony, identified photos showing the victim with Banko during a First Holy Communion ceremony and described the victim's emotional difficulty discussing the abuse.
Banko was convicted on separate counts of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree endangering the welfare of a child.
He remains a priest, but cannot serve Mass or perform other priestly duties. A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Metuchen said he has not undergone a formal laicization, which would strip him of his ordination. More details would come in a statement from the diocese later today, said the spokeswoman, Joanne Ward.
Public Defender David Hamilton, who represented Banko today, said his client maintains his innocence on both convictions.