Attorney for Louisville Priest Rejects Plea Deal in Child Sex Abuse, Sodomy Case
By Kayla Vanover
May 11, 2017
|Joseph Hemmerle (Source: WAVE 3 News Archives)|
BRANDENBURG, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville priest convicted of sex abuse dating back to the 1970s could now be facing life in prison. His attorney abruptly left court before entering a plea deal on more charges.
Father Joseph Hemmerle was director and camp counselor for Camp Tall Trees in Meade County for 30 years. In November, Hemmerle was acquitted on one charge of engaging in a sexual act but was found guilty on a count of inappropriate touching.
In February, he was sentenced to seven years in prison after the court found him guilty of molesting Michael Norris. The incident is believed to have happened 43 years ago while Norris was attending the summer camp. Norris said he got a bad case of poison ivy and Hemmerle told him he could help. Norris visited Hemmerle's cabin where he said he was abused.
Now, Hemmerle is involved in a similar sex abuse case. This time, he's charged with two counts of sex abuse with a victim under 12 years old, and five counts of sodomy with a victim under 12 years old. If found guilty on all charges, Hemmerle could spend the rest of his life in prison.
On Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Leilani J. M. Martin stood before the judge prepared to move forward with the plea agreement she designed. However, David Lambertus, Hemmerle's defense attorney, didn't agree to file the deal. Instead, Lambertus wants to move forward with the scheduled trial. This surprised Martin because she said she was sent a picture of the plea agreement signed by Hemmerle on Wednesday night. Regardless of the signature, the agreement isn't valid unless it's entered into the court.
Lambertus quickly left the courtroom after his discussion with the judge, refusing to answer any of our questions.
Hemmerle was in the process of being escorted to court from jail when the conversation happened and wasn't present inside the court room when his attorney's decision went on record. Martin believes Hemmerle was unaware of his attorney's decision.
The plea agreement was written to have Hemmerle sentenced to ten years, and serving 20% of that sentence, which is two years.
"So, you can see how lenient the plea agreement was and how forgiving the victim was willing to be," Martin said.
The agreement also allowed the two years to be served while he served the other seven years he was already sentenced.
"I am upset because the plea agreement was so good for the defendant and I'm not sure the defense council has his best interest in mind," Martin explained.
If approached again by the defense counsel, Martin said she will still ethically honor the existing plea agreement.
"But, at the same time, I will be preparing for trial," Martin added.
WAVE 3 News attempted to contact Hemmerle for an interview inside Meade County Detention Center to determine if his attorney's decision caught him off guard. The interview was unsuccessful because he remained in a holding room inside the courthouse.
Hemmerle cannot lawfully enter the plea agreement without his attorney being present.
The sexual abuse allegation by Norris that Hemmerle was convicted of surfaced in 2001. No charges were filed against Hemmerle then, but he was reassigned after an internal investigation by the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The current case stems from allegations brought up in 2014. Hemmerle's trial date is scheduled to start next May.
Officials with the Archdiocese of Louisville said the process to remove Hemmerle from the priesthood will not start until after his second trial is completed. That decision was made to ensure that their report to the Vatican is complete.
Hemmerle, who had previous assignments at several Louisville churches, has been placed on administrative leave and asked not to present himself as a priest.