Police: Charges filed in beating, robbery of South Side priest

A parolee has been arrested on charges he and another offender allegedly broke into a South Side Catholic Church 2 ½ years ago, beat an elderly priest with the victim’s cane and a holy water sprinkler, and then stole $600 from a safe.

One of the attackers asked Father Daniel Mallette to pray for him after the longtime priest had suffered two broken ribs and was bleeding profusely, according to Cook County prosecutors.

Jerrell Harris, 21, was charged with aggravated battery, home invasion, and robbery in the December 2011 attack. He appeared in court in a white T-shirt and black pants and was ordered held on $500,000 bail today by Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil.

Harris, of the 1300 block of West 97th Street, was taken into custody Thursday as he was paroled from Pinkneyville Correctional Center on a separate vehicular invasion case.

Harris admitted to taking part in the armed robbery and aggravated battery of Mallette on Dec. 6, 2011, at the rectory of St. Margaret of Scotland Church at 9837 S. Throop St., according to a police report.

Police are still seeking the second attacker.

Assistant State’s Attorney Erin Antonietti said Mallet was struck in the head with the cane and the holy water sprinkler, causing lacerations to the father’s forehead and eyebrow that required stitches to close. He was also hospitalized because of the broken ribs.

Harris and the other person sprayed bleach inside the church as they walked through it, hoping to get rid of evidence, she said. A security alarm went off as the intruders walked through the church, and as the two offenders left, they had another request for Mallet.

“One of the offenders asked the father to pray for them and asked if he wanted them to call an ambulance,” Antonietti said.

Mallette had battled violence and poverty from his South Side Catholic church for decades when he became a victim of violence when two masked men broke into the church rectory and beat and robbed him, authorities said at the time.

“Enough already,’’ said the now-retired Mallette who was reached by phone this morning, referring to violence, in general.

“I don’t have anything to say at this time,’’ he added, saying it was the first he had heard of the arrest.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, a close friend of Mallette, said he was grateful to learn of the charges and praised the work of Chicago police, saying the arrest is the first step toward “some degree of closure.”

“Chicago [police] just really knocked it out of the park,” Dart said.

The robbery left a profound impact on the priest, said Dart, whose family attends Mass once at week at Mallette’s home. First came an intense physical recovery; then began a mental healing process that continues to this day.

“There are still times that he’ll talk about that night and have nightmares about it,” Dart said. “That definitely has never left him and probably never will.”

Yet as he processed the ordeal, Mallette also began a new chapter of his professional life – volunteering with people serving time at the Cook County jail. In various settings, from boot camp to a day reporting center, Mallette has been counseling convicts dealing with drug addiction, Dart said.

It’s a surprising choice, the sheriff said, for someone who went through such a violent ordeal.

“You’d think the last person they’d ever want to be around is a person who was charged with a crime,” Dart said. “Not him. He just jumped right into it.”

Out of concern for the pastor’s well-being, the sheriff said he regularly tells Mallete to maintain emotional distance from the inmates he works with.

 

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