Prosecutor Outraged after "Lenient" Plea Deal on Pedophile Priest Falls through
By Gil Corsey
May 11, 2017
He's both a convicted pedophile and a priest, and on Thursday Father Joseph Hemmerle was set to confess to molesting a second young boy.
"We spent weeks hammering out a plea agreement," said Special Prosecutor Leilani Martin. "It was signed."
It's why Martin was stunned by the reversal in Meade County Circuit Court.
"Out of the blue, defense attorney David Lambertus decided not to go through with it -- suddenly announced he was going to trial instead -- and it was sort of a shock," Martin said. "He announced it in the courtroom without his client present and just turned around and left."
The attorney also refused to answer any questions from WDRB News outside the courthouse. The deal he turned down offered two years to serve for sex abuse and sodomy but no new prison time as Hemmerle's already behind bars. He's serving a 10-year sentence for child sex abuse charges dating back to the 1970s when he served at Camp Tall Trees.
Thursday's case also stems from accusations at the camp. Taking it to trial, Hemmerle faces up to life in prison if convicted.
"You can see how lenient the plea agreement was and how forgiving my victim was willing to be," Martin said. "He just wanted to give the guy a chance of resuming his life, and all he wanted him to do was admit he'd done some wrong. That was it."
Technically, Fr. Hemmerle is still a catholic priest -- just suspended from ministry. The abrupt reversal left prosecutors angry and stunned.
"I am disappointed with how it went today because it was an opportunity for the system to work exactly the way everybody wants it to work," Martin said. "It was an opportunity for justice and mercy to happen at the same time."
This plea agreement would have greatly changed Hemmerle's story as he's been steadfast about being falsely accused. For example, during a sentencing hearing in February Hemmerle said, "I state again under oath that I am innocent of all these charges."
Martin said she's not pulling the deal off the table, but she is prepared to go in trial on, May 18.