OKEECHOBEE — Since he’s spent most of his adult life as an advocate for those who were victims of sexual abuse as children, it should come as no surprise that John Nettle and his fiancée used their wedding as an opportunity to speak on the subject again.
When Mr. Nettle was a boy, he was placed in the St. Michael School for Boys in Scranton, Pa., after some bad decisions on his part, he said. After his father died, his mother had to work hard to support him and his siblings and was not always around to keep tabs on him, and he found himself doing a lot of things he shouldn’t have.
At St. Michael’s, the boys in the school did receive discipline and education, but they also found themselves under the control of a teacher named Mark Maroni, who took pleasure in cornering them in the shower by themselves, said Mr. Nettle. He reportedly abused the boys sexually and then attempted to control them by allowing them to bring contraband from home as a reward for their silence and their compliance. When Mr. Nettle could take it no longer, he finally told his housemother, and she believed him. She immediately reported it to the administration but, strangely enough, they fired her, he said. They did begin an investigation, though, and Mr. Nettle spoke to the state police, but nothing ever came of it, and he was left to deal with the teacher for years. Then he began showing behavior problems and was sent to an 18-month residential treatment program. He completed that program with no problem and went back to public high school. When he was 16, he was notified two other boys had come forward accusing his former teacher of abuse, and they were ready to take him to trial. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison with no chance for parole. Maroni was convicted in October 1996 of multiple counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children for sexually abusing three boys at St. Michael’s between December 1992 and February 1994. Maroni died of cancer in prison in August 2018. He was 55.
Although he hoped the trial and sentence would bring him closure, it did not. Mr. Nettle still felt a burning rage inside. He got into drugs and abused alcohol, anything to dull the pain, he said.
He has turned his life around and is the father of six beautiful children, three boys and three girls. Mr. Nettle is working with lawmakers throughout the country to abolish the statute of limitation on cases like his so victims can seek compensation from the Catholic Church. “At the time the abuse took place, I was a ward of the state. My mom was in prison. My dad was dead. The state was responsible for me, and with the statute of limitations, they can’t be held accountable for their lack of care,” he said. “That’s not right.”
On Halloween, Mr. Nettle and Angela Cash arrived at the Okeechobee Courthouse, where they exchanged their vows, accompanied by some of their closest friends. The most unusual aspect of the ceremony was their wedding attire. Mr. Nettle was wearing a striped prison jumpsuit. His new bride was wearing a nurse costume. Their witnesses were dressed as two voluptuous police sergeants, Michele Fox and Brittney Chandler and an officer, Thad Chandler, apparently there to keep the prisoner in line. The bride and groom have been together for 15 years, but have never slowed down long enough to tie the knot. His family has history in Okeechobee, he said. His family is a Gold Star family. His brother, Shawn Michael Suzch, was killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq, and his name is on the war memorial in Flagler Park.
“It is my hope that together we can bring all darkness to light,” said Mr. Nettle.