Trial Begins for Catholic Priest Accused of Trying to Hire Hit Man to Kill Accuser
By Jennifer Emily
Dallas Morning News
May 16, 2012
Testimony got under way today in the Dallas County trial of a former priest accused of engaging in a murder-for-hire plot to kill a man who accused the priest of molesting him as a boy.
Prosecutors allege that John Fiala was distraught over indictments that accused him of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in his rural West Texas parish when he asked a neighbor to kill his accuser.
Fiala faces a charge of solicitation of capital murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison. He's also been indicted on four charges of sexual assault in Edwards County.
The neighbor, Scottie Fisher, testified that Fiala told him about his legal troubles in November 2010 when they were renting rooms at a house in Garland. Fisher said that Fiala was crying and that he tried to comfort the man he had known just three weeks by patting him on the back.
"Can you go out and kill him?" Fisher testified that Fiala asked.
"I said 'Hell no.'"
Fisher said Fiala told him "he deserves to die" and said Fiala was serious. "He said if he was dead all of this would be OK. …He said he wanted him dead before Thanksgiving."
Fisher then told Fiala that his brother might do it and promised to call him. Fisher instead called an attorney whose name he had seen in Fiala's legal paperwork. That attorney called authorities, who contacted Fisher.
Fisher testified that he cooperated with authorities because he believes Fiala belongs behind bars.
"He's a monster," Fisher testified.
A member of the Texas Department of Public Safety's gang unit posed as Fiala's brother and arranged to kill Fiala's accuser, who is not being named because The Dallas Morning News does not typically name possible victims of sex crimes.
Prosecutors Hector Garza and Brandon Birmingham told jurors in opening arguments that the meeting left no doubt about what Fiala wanted.
"I want him dead," Garza told jurors that Fiala told the man he believed was a hitman. Fiala said he didn't care how it happened, according to Garza: "Chop off his head or shoot him. I don't care."
Fiala's attorney, Rex Gunter, told jurors in opening arguments that the plot was Fisher's idea and that he set the plan in motion. He said Fiala was never serious about carrying it out.
"In reality this was your plan, wasn't it?" Gunter said while questioning Fisher.
"No," Fisher responded.
Gunter asked Fisher whether he told Fiala "you need to have this boy killed?"
"No," Fisher responded.
Gunter asked if Fisher's mental state caused him to be confused or perhaps not understand because Fisher is a paranoid schizophrenic. Fisher said no because he has taken his medication regularly for at least four years.
According to a lawsuit filed by the accuser, who is now 20, Fiala repeatedly sexually assaulted the boy in 2007 and 2008. The lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio and the archbishop at the time, alleged Fiala twice forced the boy to have sex at gunpoint when Fiala was at the Sacred Heart of Mary Parish in Rocksprings.
Fiala's accuser testified for mere minutes today. He confirmed that he is the complainant in the sexual assault cases and not much else. He was not questioned by the defense.
The San Antonio Express-News has reported that Fiala amassed a troubling ministry record that stretched back two decades. Fiala's record included parents telling Fiala to stay away from their sons and a psychologist saying he was narcissistic, naïve and displayed potentially harmful sexuality.