Judge Upholds Abuse Charges against Hibbing Priest
By Tom Olsen Today
Duluth News Tribune
December 1, 2015
A judge has denied a motion to dismiss the felony charges against a Hibbing priest accused of sexually abusing underage girls, setting the stage for the case to go to trial.
In an order filed Monday, 6th Judicial District Judge David Ackerson concluded that a jury should decide whether or not Brian Michael Lederer is guilty of seven sexual assault and child pornography charges.
"Considering all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the state's position, the state has presented sufficient evidence to support a determination of probable cause to proceed to trial against the Defendant on all Counts," Ackerson wrote in his five-page order.
With the filing of the order, not-guilty pleas were entered on Lederer's behalf to all charges.
Lederer, 30, had challenged the sufficiency of evidence, which was based largely on the accounts of four girls who reported inappropriate touching by Lederer, who worked at Blessed Sacrament Parish and the Assumption Catholic School.
Authorities said the girls, ranging in age from 10 to 14, described numerous incidents in which Lederer allegedly touched their breasts or genital areas over their clothing. Additionally, investigators reported that at least five images of suspected child pornography were recovered from Lederer's computer.
Lederer's attorney, Peter Wold of Minneapolis, blasted the charges as an overzealous response to the ongoing child sexual abuse controversies in the Catholic Church. "The fear that an innocent touch is actually a sexual advance is not the standard in a criminal court," he wrote.
St. Louis County prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich responded by arguing that the descriptions given by the alleged victims, as well as other concerns raised by parents and school staff, pointed to a "sexual or aggressive intent."
"The defendant's conduct for a 28-year-old man can only be viewed as designed to obtain some sort of sexual gratification," Vlatkovich wrote.
While upholding the charges, Ackerson ruled that several pieces of evidence could not be used to prove sexual intent, including allegations that Lederer "snapped" the girls' bras.
Lederer is charged with four counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of possession of child pornography. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 25 years in prison on the most serious charges.
Lederer, who is free on $250,000 bond, was ordained in 2012. The Diocese of Duluth placed him on leave when the allegations arose in May, and he is not allowed to minister as a priest or have contact with anyone younger than 18.
Ackerson scheduled a pretrial conference for Dec. 24. A trial date has not been set.