Jury Acquits Former Priest of Sexual Misconduct
By Kelly Grinsteinner
June 22, 2016
Not guilty was the verdict of a 12-member jury for the former Hibbing priest accused of sexual misconduct.
Brian M. Lederer, 30, was facing four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree.
The alleged incidents occurred 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, the former priest at Blessed Sacrament Parish and Assumption Catholic School, was arrested and charged on May 7, 2015. He was then placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Duluth.
Three of the accusers were under age 13 at the time, and the fourth was between ages 13 to 16. Three of the females were classmates, and two were sisters.
The verdict was read by Judge David E. Ackerson around 1:30 p.m. Monday — day four of the trial and about two hours after the jury went into deliberation — in St. Louis County District Court in Hibbing.
As he did on several occasions throughout the trial, Ackerson warned those in the courtroom to keep their emotions in check. However, tears of joy and sighs of relief echoed in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Lederer’s family members, friends and supportive parishioners had been there for the duration of the trial. As they left the courtroom, there were hugs, handshakes and more tears.
Lederer was bright-eyed and all smiles. He and his contingent all declined to comment.
Defense Attorney Peter Wold said the jury reached the right verdict given the evidence, which he opined “did not hang well” in this case. It was the state’s burden to prove these acts occurred and that they were intentional and sexual in nature.
Wold called the charges “emotional,” adding it’s hard for an attorney to cross-examine young witnesses.
“It’s a delicate thing, as you saw,” said Wold. “And I trust the jury got that sense too.”
None of the girls nor their parents were present when the verdict was read.
“We are obviously extremely disappointed with the verdicts, but we respect the work of the jury,” said the prosecutor, Assistant County Attorney Jeff Vlatkovich. “Four brave girls took oaths and testified about what happened to them.”
He said they are to be admired for their courage.
“We hope that the girls and their parents can find some comfort in having come forward and testified in that their efforts may prevent other children from being victimized by trusted persons in positions of authority,” Vlatkovich added.
All four girls and three parents had taken the stand earlier in the trial. Two law enforcement officers and one teacher from the Assumption School had testified for the state.
Lederer still faces a felony charge of possession of pornographic work. It had been severed from these charges by Ackerson prior to the trial. Lederer pleaded not guilty to that charge in November 2015.
Lederer remains on administrative leave as the civil legal process takes its course, confirmed Kyle Eller, communications director for the Duluth Diocese. After that, the situation will be considered in light of canon law, he added.