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  Rights of Both Parties at Issue in Sex Case

By Jamie Satterfield
Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
May 12, 2004

A defrocked Catholic priest's right to a speedy trial on charges he sexually assaulted a man is colliding with his alleged victim's right to serve his country.

Stephen Charles LaPrad contends two years is too long to wait for a trial on charges he had "unlawful sexual contact" with a teenage boy at a Knoxville gym.

But prosecutors counter that LaPrad's alleged victim is a member of a National Guard unit that has been activated for duty. His request for leave time to attend the trial, which was set for this month, has been denied, according to special prosecutor Robert L. Headrick.

Headrick asked Tuesday for a delay in the trial, arguing it would be unfair if the guardsman's allegations were dismissed because of a conflict with his military service.

Attorney David Eldridge balked.

"We would ask the court to deny the motion and dismiss the case," Eldridge said.

Pinned between the guardsman's right to fulfill his military duty and LaPrad's right under the U.S. Constitution to a speedy trial, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz set a showdown of sorts, ordering Headrick to announce by July 12 whether a trial can proceed.

LaPrad, 54, was serving as priest at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Lenoir City when, in November 2001, he was accused of an undisclosed form of sexual contact with the alleged victim while the pair were at a health club.

He was indicted in May 2002 on a sexual battery charge in connection with the incident. Details of the allegations have not been revealed. Eldridge has said LaPrad "believed it was an encounter in which both men were interested."

Eldridge told Leibowitz that LaPrad was suspended from the priesthood as a result of the allegation. "His life has been suspended," Eldridge said. "The allegation in this case had nothing to do with his role as a priest."

But the allegation surfaced at a time when media headlines were filled with tales of sexual molestation involving Catholic priests. Just two months before LaPrad was indicted, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville was rocked by the discovery that its founder, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, had admitted to sexual misconduct involving at least one minor before arriving in Knoxville in 1988.

Eldridge said LaPrad no longer lives in Tennessee and is working in a profession unrelated to the ministry. He has been ostracized by the sexual battery charge and wants to clear his name, Eldridge said.

This is the second time that prosecutors have sought a delay in the case because of the guardsman's military duty. Headrick said the guardsman is still waiting to find out whether his deployment will be stateside or overseas. He should have an answer by early June, Headrick said.

Headrick was working for the Knox County District Attorney General's Office when LaPrad was indicted. He was assigned to prosecute LaPrad but later accepted a post in Blount County. However, District Attorney General Randy Nichols sought and received permission to allow Headrick to remain on the case as a special prosecutor. It's not clear why, but the speedy trial motion filed by LaPrad likely was a factor. A new prosecutor would essentially start from scratch in the case.

 
 

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