Mistrial Declared for Fresno Priest Accused of Abuse

Associated Press, carried in Sign On SanDiego
December 20, 2006

Fresno A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the civil trial of a priest accused of molesting a former altar boy nearly 20 years ago.

After eight days of deliberation, a Fresno County jury said it had decided 9-3 that Father Eric Swearingen molested the boy, but deadlocked 5-7 that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno knew or could have known about it. Nine jurors were needed to render a verdict.

Superior Court Judge Donald S. Black declared a mistrial and scheduled a new trial for April 16.

Juan Rocha, 31, accused Swearingen of molesting him at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Bakersfield and St. Alphonsus parish in Fresno when Rocha was between 12 and 15 years old.

Rocha's lawsuit against the diocese seeks unspecified damages for emotional distress from the alleged abuse.

During the trial, Swearingen testified that he allowed the boy to stay temporarily with him in the two rectories so he could get away from a troubled home, but never molested him.

Bishop John T. Steinbock reaffirmed his belief in Swearingen's innocence, and said the diocese is prepared for a new trial. Earlier this month, the diocese rejected Rocha's offer to settle the lawsuit for $1 on the condition that Swearingen resign.

Rocha's attorney, David Drivon, said his client felt vindicated by the jury's 9-3 vote that Swearingen molested him.


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