A New Jersey priest accused of pointing a functioning musket at an 8-year-old boy in a church's rectory as part of a football rivalry has pleaded not guilty to child endangerment and aggravated assault charges.
The Rev. Kevin Carter entered his plea Tuesday during a brief hearing in Hackensack as parishioners filled the courtroom in a show of support. He told reporters afterward he believed he would be vindicated.
The priest, who was charged last week and is free on $15,000 cash bail, expressed concern on Monday for any "trauma" that publicity from the case may have caused the boy and his family.
The 54-year-old priest added, "I also know that nothing that day put him in fear."
The charges against Carter stem from a Sept. 13 incident at St. Margaret of Cortona Roman Catholic Church in Little Ferry.
Carter, an avid Giants fan, and the boy, who roots for the Cowboys, were talking about football. The NFL teams were scheduled to play that night.
Prosecutor John Molinelli said Carter asked the boy to step into one of the rectory's rooms and stand against a wall, where he pointed the musket at him.
Cassidy, the lawyer, said Carter had been wrongfully charged over what happened between him and the boy, calling it "an innocent banter."
"So when somebody saw the young fellow with the Cowboy jersey, they thought it was a great opportunity to rib Father about the game that day, between the Cowboys and the Giants," Cassidy said. "So the family initiated the discussion and sought to initiate an exchange, a good-natured ribbing, between the two of them. ... It's incorrect to think the child was in fear. He was not."
A parishioner reported the incident to the Archdiocese of Newark late last month, and officials there notified prosecutors.
At Masses on Sunday, parishioners voiced support for Carter and applauded when he began the services by reading a statement maintaining his innocence, the newspaper reported. He told his congregation the charges reflect misinterpreted "jesting" between him and the boy.
Molinelli has said he doesn't consider pointing a gun at someone, especially a child, to be a joke.
The Cowboys beat the Giants 27-26.