Jury Acquits Catholic Priest Robert Deland of Sexually Assaulting 2 Teens
By Cole Waterman
March 21, 2018
A jury deliberated for about two hours before acquitting a popular Roman Catholic priest in a case where he was accused of sexually assaulting two male teens. It was the first of three trials.
The nine-woman, three-man jury delivered its verdicts about 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, finding 72-year-old Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr. not guilty of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The charges are 15-year felonies and DeLand had previously pleaded no contest to them.
Neither of the teens who testified against DeLand were in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. Several supporters of DeLand were seated in the gallery behind him, however. Some gasped at hearing the verdicts. Others cried and hugged each other.
DeLand himself was initially stoic. After the jurors filed out of the courtroom, he stood and began embracing his supporters, smiling as he did so.
Prosecutors are declining to comment on the matter until all DeLand’s trials are resolved, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner said. Defense attorney Alan A. Crawford declined commenting until later in the day.
Jurors began deliberating about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, after attorneys delivered their closing arguments.
The trial began Tuesday with jury selection. Testimony began Wednesday with Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover calling two teenagers, one’s father and former Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian J. Berg to the witness stand.
One teen testified DeLand on May 14, 2017, had attempted to grab his penis in a coatroom within St. Agnes Church in Freeland during a memorial service for a classmate who had committed suicide. The other teen testified DeLand pulled him from class in Freeland High School on Nov. 16, 2017, took him to another room, gave him $20, then slid his hand down his back and touched his left buttock.
DeLand himself took the witness stand Thursday morning and professed his innocence in both alleged instances. After he stepped down, both teens retook the stand to reiterate what they said DeLand had done to them.
DeLand remains charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor involving one of the two teens who already testified and a young man who did not testify in this week’s trial. The remaining charges are to be the focus of two remaining trials.
Police first arrested DeLand on the night of Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, after he conducted Mass at St. Agnes Church in Freeland, where he had most recently been assigned. The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw suspended his faculties.
Police arrested DeLand a second time on April 5 on related charges.
DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to all charges against him. About a month later, he withdrew his plea because he did not want to accept the potential sentence he faced, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Gaertner has said.
DeLand remains free on bond pending his next trial.