Last Accuser Tells Jury What Happened with Priest; State Rests Case
By Kelly Grinsteinner
Hibbing Daily Tribune
June 17, 2016
The fourth and eldest accuser alleging a former Hibbing priest of sexual misconduct testified Friday during the third day of trial in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing.
Brian M. Lederer, 30, is charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree.
Three of the juvenile accusers testified Wednesday, recounting how Lederer touched them inappropriately on more than one occasion. Three parents have also testified, including the mother of two of the girls.
He is accused of snapping bras while massaging shoulders, grabbing two of the girls’ breasts, touching them in the buttocks, and touching and lifting two of them in the groin area.
The incidents took place during the 2014-2015 school year after school hours at Assumption School. One incident took place in a residence, and other actions occurred on a school bus.
Lederer was arrested and charged on May 7, 2015. He’s been on administrative leave by the Diocese of Duluth since.
With her parents present in the courtroom, Prosecutor Jeff Vlatkovich had the girl describe how she and the family grew close with Lederer. He inquired how their relationship changed by having her recall her academic year since fourth grade, when she and Lederer first met.
“He was nice,” she said more than once. “He was a good friend to everyone.”
She spoke about the games she and others would play on his cell phone as well as the phone games against each other. She said they did not have personal contact via cell phone, as she was not allowed to text.
She also corroborated the testimony of others as to what took place after school at Assumption School and who was present on those occasions.
When asked about when Lederer became more touchy, she said it first began when she was in the sixth grade. She had witnessed an incident of bra snapping by Lederer against her younger sister at the school, but didn’t say anything because he was a friend.
She charged that Lederer would touch her bra shoulder straps and “fiddle” with her bra clasp at times, but did not snap hers as often as he did to her sister.
She also relayed the details of when Lederer rubbed her lower back and squeezed her butt while in an Assumption classroom after school. She said it felt weird and walked away. She mentioned another time in the hallway when he slapped her butt, but she believed it was meant to be a slap to her shoulder.
When pressed by Vlatkovich why she didn’t tell anyone, she again stated it was because he was a friend.
Attention was then turned to the incident that occurred in the family home – she said Lederer stroked her inner thigh and touched her groin area while they and two others were playing checkers around a TV tray.
Lederer had often been at the family’s home and was present by invite because of a First Communion party that day.
The girl recounted how the touching had taken place, stating she was “shocked.” She said she did not make a sound when it happened, but moved away from Lederer.
“I looked at him. He kinda smile at me,” she said. “… I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t think he’d do something like this.”
The incident left her scared and confused, she said. She told her sister about it just more than a day later, and she in turn told their mother. She said she felt better once sharing it with her mom, but added that she was still scared.
Defense Attorney Peter Wold had the girl speak about her sports achievements and prowess. She admitted to being competitive and at times getting angry when competing.
Wold had her rehash her testimony about the alleged touching incidents, pointing out a few discrepancies between her initial statement to law enforcement and her testimony. He played the video of the checkers game that had been admitted as evidence earlier in the trial. She said she had taken the video and recalled that she had once she viewed it.
Wold also set up a set of chairs and a TV tray to recreate the scene. He had the girl stand near the tray and asked her questions about the alleged touching.
As he wrapped up cross-exam, Wold asked if she had expected to talk to police and be in court to tell her story. She replied that she didn’t know what would happen.
“But you knew if you told that Father Brian would get in trouble, right?”
She answered in the affirmative.
The state rested its case and adjourned for lunch. Defense is expected to begin its case this afternoon. Wold declined to state for the court whether Lederer was planning to testify.