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Priest suspected in sexual assault arrested in India

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CHICAGO _ A fugitive Roman Catholic priest has been arrested in India after seven years on the run while facing charges that he sexually assaulted a 14-year-old Minnesota girl who sought his advice about becoming a nun.

The Rev. Joseph Jeyapaul's case was featured in a Chicago Tribune story about priests accused of sexual assault who have managed to evade the law. His alleged victim, Megan Peterson, who is now 22, told the newspaper in an interview Monday that she was taken off guard by the arrest after so many years of waiting.

"I find it quite ironic that that we did that interview and then a week later he is in handcuffs," Peterson said. "I wasn't expecting it to happen this fast."

But Peterson said she was still firmly committed to testifying against Jeyapaul should he be extradited to Minnesota to face trial. "I am ready _ it's about time," she said. "If my voice can help, then I'll be there."

Jeyapaul in the past has asserted his innocence and continued to serve as a priest in India, where he was prohibited from direct contact with children.

He was arrested Friday and is being held in custody pending a formal U.S. request for his extradition, to be filed in New Delhi, The Associated Press reported.

In Minnesota, Roseau County attorney Karen Foss said she had little more information Monday afternoon but added that Jeyapaul "is awaiting extradition, and we'll let that process unfold."

Jeyapaul was arrested on an Interpol warrant, Foss added.

Jeyapaul is one of at least 32 Roman Catholic priests nationwide since 1985 who the Tribune found have fled to foreign countries while facing criminal charges or being investigated over allegations that they sexually assaulted or abused youths in the United States. Only five of them have been returned to the U.S. to face trial.

Priests accused of sexual misconduct often returned to their hometowns and did little to conceal their identities or whereabouts, the newspaper found.

Efforts to extradite another priest who fled to his native India, the Rev. Sleeva Raju Policetti, have dragged for nearly a decade, the Tribune found. Policetti was charged in 2002 with 20 counts of criminal sexual assault and abuse of a 16-year-old girl, though the charges are now in jeopardy because a lawyer for the alleged victim has indicated she may not want to pursue prosecution.

The potential end to that case offers an example of how an opaque and slow-moving international extradition system can derail justice, leaving suspects accused of serious crimes free when they find haven in foreign countries.