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  Former Priest on Trial in Man's Sexual Assault
Irving: Accuser Says He Was Defenseless While Drunk after Wedding

By Robert Tharp
Dallas Morning News
June 23, 2005

So drunk that he vomited and could not stand on his own after a wedding in Irving, a 20-year-old Amarillo man testified Thursday that he was defenseless when the Rev. John A. Salazar sexually assaulted him.

In more than three hours of testimony on the opening day of Mr. Salazar's sexual assault trial, Beau Villegas detailed how Mr. Salazar the priest in the small West Texas town where he grew up guided him inside his Irving hotel room after a September 2003 wedding and promised to take care of him until he sobered up.

"He told me to come into his room and he'd take care of me until I was through being sick," said Mr. Villegas, who testified he had consumed more than 10 beers and several mixed drinks that evening. "He helped me kneel while I vomited. He ran warm water and washed my face."

Mr. Salazar then removed the then-18-year-old's pants and sexually assaulted him, Mr. Villegas said.

"I was in some sort of shock, petrified, intoxicated," he said. "I didn't now how to react. ... I could not have resisted if I had tried."

Earlier during opening statements and during cross-examination, defense attorneys Leigh Demasi and James Vasilas suggested that Mr. Villegas was not as intoxicated as he claims and that he had embellished his account.

"Each time he tells it, it gets more and more spectacular, more extraordinary and it grows," Ms. Demasi said.

The defense attorneys also raised questions about whether Mr. Salazar was actually a priest at the time of the incident.

Mr. Salazar had resigned from his parish duties more than a year before his arrest in September 2003. The move was made shortly before Catholic bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding clergy who had committed sex offenses.

Monsignor Harold Waldo testified that Mr. Salazar was still technically a priest at the time, although he was restricted from performing public ministry and wearing priestly garb. Monsignor Waldo testified that Mr. Salazar was formally defrocked in December 2004.

In previous interviews, Mr. Salazar has maintained that Mr. Villegas was the one who made the sexual advances. He suggested that the allegations were part of an effort by Mr. Villegas' family to profit monetarily by filing a lawsuit.

Mr. Villegas has not filed a civil suit but could still do so.

During his testimony Thursday, Mr. Villegas said he was angry about what had happened and told his parents and, later, Catholic officials in Amarillo and the police.

Mr. Salazar had been the priest in Tulia, Texas, where Mr. Villegas grew up. Mr. Villegas described befriending the priest as an inquisitive teenager who had serious questions and deep interest in Catholicism.

"He always appeared to be caring," Mr. Villegas said. "He wanted to, I guess, spark some interest. He wanted to minister to me I guess. ... Because he was a priest I felt he was somebody I could confide in and not worry about him passing judgment. I trusted him without a doubt."

Mr. Villegas said he developed a close friendship with the priest, whom he considered a spiritual advisor and counselor. Later, Mr. Villegas said he tried to distance himself from Mr. Salazar after the priest confided in him that he was homosexual and Mr. Villegas sensed that Mr. Salazar was making sexual advances.

"I kept fighting the thought of it because I had such great trust in him," Mr. Villegas said. "He was always my friend my priest. That's what he was to my family."

Unknown to Tulia residents at the time, Mr. Salazar had been convicted of sexually assaulting two boys in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to six years in prison in 1987 and was still on parole when he was brought into the Amarillo diocese in 1991 after spending time at a New Mexico retreat for priests who had committed sexual offenses.

Jurors in the trial have not heard about Mr. Salazar's criminal record. His defense team is somewhat constrained from arguing during the trial that the incident at the hotel was consensual because it could open the door for prosecutors to introduce details of the prior conviction, as well as allegations from two other people who say that Mr. Salazar abused them as teens while he was still a priest.

Visiting Judge Gary Stephens indicated in a pretrial hearing that he is "inclined" to allow the testimony if Mr. Salazar's attorneys or defense witnesses suggest that Mr. Villegas consented to the sexual encounter, but he has made no ruling.

Because he has a prior sex assault conviction, Mr. Salazar could face up to life in prison if convicted.

Mr. Villegas will return to the witness stand today for cross-examination by Mr. Salazar's attorneys.

 
 

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