Priest Pleads Guilty in Sexual Misconduct Case

By Gary Grado
East Valley Tribune [Arizona]
October 28, 2004

A priest who is the former pastor of Mesa's Queen of Peace Catholic Church admitted Thursday to giving a teenage parishioner massages for his own sexual gratification. Karl LeClaire, 48, will be placed on three years probation and could spend up to one year in county jail under the plea deal, which was reached just as the second day of trial was to begin in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa.

LeClaire could have been sent to prison for 10 to 24 years if he had been convicted at trial of the two sex charges leveled against him.

"We're pleased the victim can hear the person who committed offenses against him for so many years take responsibility," prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said.

LeClaire, who pleaded guilty to one count of sexually motivated aggravated assault, is to be sentenced Dec. 3.

The victim, now 22, was prepared to testify Thursday as attorneys hammered out the final details of the plea deal.

Mitchell said the man's main concern was for LeClaire to take responsibility, which wouldn't have happened had the trial gone on.

LeClaire denied at trial Wednesday the accusations that he touched the man's genitals when he was 14 and 17, and he still denies it, defense attorney Daniel Sheperd said.

But he did admit to giving massages.

Mitchell said the case was also holding up the man's efforts to become an Army Ranger.

"We talked to him extensively this morning, he understands it and he agrees completely," Mitchell said. LeClaire rejected a similar plea deal two months ago that didn't require him to admit to the sexual motivation. LeClaire's attorney said his client agreed to Thursday's plea deal to put the ordeal behind everybody.

"Not to have to put more people through anguish," Sheperd said. Under the deal, LeClaire must provide DNA for a sex offender database and it will be up to Judge Sherry Stephens whether he must register as a sex offender.

Mitchell said Wednesday in opening statements that LeClaire manipulated the victim when he was a teenager whose parents were going through a divorce. LeClaire began giving the teenager massages in his underwear and eventually touched him on his genitals during the massages on two occasions, Mitchell said. Sheperd said Wednesday that the victim didn't raise the allegations until LeClaire began demanding repayment on an $11,000 loan.

The case came to light when the Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigated sexual misconduct within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix for a year. LeClaire was charged and arrested in June 2003.

The investigation resulted in the indictment of eight priests.


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