Priest on Trial: Witness Says Maurizio Is ‘a Great Person’; Honduran Woman Excused after Brief Testimony
By Kecia Bal
September 17, 2015
|Todd Berkey/The Tribune-democrat|
Defense testimony Thursday in the federal case against the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr. appeared to be cut shorter than expected.
Jurors listened to testimony for about an hour and a half Thursday afternoon:?an attorney, a woman who said she lives near the Honduran orphanage ProNino and the man witnesses said was a security guard at the orphanage where federal investigators say Maurizio targeted Honduran boys.
But testimony from the woman, who said her name was Reyna Isabella Garcia but who did not spell her name, lasted only a few minutes. Defense attorney Steven Passarello asked Garcia about four questions before a dispute put a halt to the testimony. One of those questions was about Garcia’s children.
The woman said she had a son who died three years ago and that she lived near the La Montana campus of ProNino.
When Passarello asked her whether her child was depicted in two photos central to allegations against the priest of child pornography possession, U.S. Department of Justice trial attorney Amy Larson objected. Passarello said he asked for a stipulation to avoid having Garcia identify her son in the photographs.
After a sidebar with the judge, Passarello returned and told Garcia that he had no more questions.
“Thank you for coming to the United States to testify, but I’m not going to put you through this,” he said.
The issue came up again after the jury had left the courtroom when Larson told Judge Kim Gibson that she would like it to be clear for the record that she did not have advanced time to review the proposed stipulation that would have allowed the woman to testify without identifying her son in photographs. Larson said she has concerns about whether Garcia is the woman she says she is, because the woman came to the country with a different name and date of birth.
Gibson said he would review the record.
“What’s clear is that you do have a dispute on this,” he said.
The defense also brought Juan Ramon Anariba, an attorney in El Progresso Honduras who said he transported some witnesses and one alleged victim to the U.S. embassy in Honduras to help them get visas. He did not testify about interviews conducted on behalf of the defense earlier this year with witnesses and alleged victims.
A man who said he was the security guard at the orphanage until 2010 – Lucas Serebia – also testified Thursday, saying that he never saw Maurizio do anything inappropriate with children.
“He’s a great person,” Serebia said. “He has really helped the poor people in my country. He would drive around distributing candy to children.”
The man said he was fired when new operators took over the facilities in 2010, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Haines asked him why he was fired around the same time the allegations arose against the priest.
Serebia said he was not aware of those allegations until four or five years later. He also identified what some witnesses had called “the international house,” a building on the La Montana campus where witnesses said Maurizio and other volunteers would stay during mission trips. Serebia said children were not allowed inside. Two alleged victims described interior furniture of the building during testimony earlier this week.
Passarello asked the man whether any of the children at the campus where he lived and patrolled on foot ever complained about Maurizio improperly touching them.
Serebia said they did not.
“No, never,” he said.
The defense team is expected to bring more witnesses Friday.