Supporters Rejoice As Accused Priest Uriel Ojeda Is Released on Bail
By Andy Furillo
The Sacramento Bee
January 10, 2012
|The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, at center holding a bag, was released just before 10 p.m. from Sacramento County Main Jail. His attorney, Jesse Ortiz, beside him, worked to free the accused priest on bail.|
Supporters of the Rev. Uriel Ojeda were rewarded for waiting in the darkness Monday as the Catholic priest posted bail and was released from the Sacramento County Main Jail.
More than 50 people prayed for and flew balloons to celebrate the release of the Sacramento diocesan priest who faces child molestation charges.
Ojeda, 32, is accused of seven counts of molesting a girl under the age of 14 while he served at parishes in Woodland and Redding. He had been jailed in lieu of $5 million bail until Sacramento Superior Court Judge Marjorie Koller last week lowered it to $700,000.
Defense attorney Jesse Ortiz initially expected Ojeda to be released by 5 p.m. By 6:30 p.m., Ojeda's supporters scrambled to post the collateral that would ensure his freedom. At 9 p.m., supporters were told it could be another hour or two.
Just before 10 p.m., Ojeda at last emerged from the jail with Ortiz, and walked to the office of a bail bondsman without making any comment.
Unemployed Woodland substitute schoolteacher Javier Sepulveda, who had been among the crowd singing prayers on behalf of Ojeda, said he had hoped for the release Monday.
"After all this time, we're just glad he's getting out," Sepulveda said. "Now we just ask that he get his due process in court. … And that he not be treated based on the Catholic Church's past history. We ask that he be treated as an American citizen like anybody else."
Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham argued in court last week against Ojeda's successful bail reduction motion. She told the judge the priest had admitted to officials from the Sacramento diocese that he had molested the girl. Dunham was not available for comment Monday, and other officials in the District Attorney's Office declined to comment on the prospect of Ojeda's release.
Defense attorney Ortiz had worked many hours Monday to put together a bail package for his client. He had previously told reporters that prosecutors obtained the high bail at the time of Ojeda's arrest in early December on fear his client would flee to Mexico.
Sacramento bounty hunter and bail expert Leonard Padilla said in an interview that a suspicion Ojeda might take off for Mexico likely added to the complexity of bonding out the defendant.
"Most sureties are very scared of posting a bond like this because of connections to Mexico and things of that nature," Padilla said.
Citing the example of three Sacramento area priests that departed for Mexico amid allegations of child molestation, Padilla said "it's just a very risky bond to post. The guy can split and still be a priest in Mexico. Mexico may not extradite him back. There are all sorts of contingency factors."
Paul Scherbenske of Paul's Bail Bonds earlier in the day had explained why the process was slow.
"The insurance company is looking at everything right now," Scherbenske said.
The priest's supporters have remained undaunted throughout his incarceration. Former parishioners in Woodland and Redding have raised money for his defense, shown up for each of his court appearances and gathered outside the jail to sing and pray.
Amid the celebratory atmosphere outside the jail Monday night, Sepulveda said he wasn't blind to the possibility that Ojeda may have committed the acts charged by the District Attorney's Office, but that he seriously doubted it.
"There is a possible victim," Sepulveda said. "I just have not seen anything enough for me to believe he would do something like that. Based on my knowing him, I have not seen anything to lead me to believe he would do something like this."