Catholic priest pleads no contest to sex assault charge, avoids second trial
By Cole Waterman
March 26, 2019
A Catholic priest in Saginaw County has pleaded no contest to a sexual assault charge and two other charges, avoiding a second trial scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 26.
The Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand appeared Tuesday before Saginaw County Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson and pleaded no contest to three charges - second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between two males, and manufacturing or distributing an imitation controlled substance. The most serious charge is second-degree criminal sexual conduct, which is a 15-year felony.
During the court hearing, one of DeLand’s three accusers and his family sat in the courtroom gallery. The 18-year-old testified in the priest’s first trial the previous week and was to testify in his second trial.
Defense attorney Alan A. Crawford said DeLand, 72, was pleading no contest due to reasons of civil liability. Judge Jackson relied on transcripts from preliminary examinations held in District Court to enter convictions on the record.
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover agreed to dismiss single counts of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and furnishing alcohol to a minor.
This marks the second time DeLand has pleaded no contest in the matter. DeLand withdrew his plea several weeks later.
Crawford declined to comment on the resolution. Prosecutors likewise declined to comment, pending a forthcoming press conference set for Wednesday.
Jackson allowed DeLand to remain free on bond pending sentencing, which is yet to be scheduled.
Tuesday was to mark the beginning of DeLand’s second trial.
DeLand’s first trial ended Thursday, March 21, with a jury finding him not guilty of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
During the trial, 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. A second 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.
The jury deliberated about two hours in the case before acquitting DeLand.
The second teen was set to testify in DeLand’s second trial. In a prior court hearing, the teen said DeLand gave him multiple cigarette packs and eventually asked him to acquire ecstasy for him. The teen, who was 17 at the time, testified DeLand gave him $100 for the illicit drug.
The teen in February 2018 stayed at DeLand's Saginaw Township condo and pretended to take an ecstasy pill, then faked the drug's effects, he said. At the time, he was equipped with a recording device provided by police, who were monitoring him from nearby.
The priest massaged the teen’s feet, chest, and back and put his hand on the teen’s buttocks for a minute or two, the teen testified.
Another accuser was to testify in the priest’s third trial. In an April 2018 preliminary examination, the then-22-year-old man testified he had met DeLand in the summer of 2017, when the priest patronized a Saginaw Township restaurant where the witness worked.
The night of Aug. 7, 2017, the man accepted DeLand’s invitation to visit his condo.
"We talked and we took some shots of Patron," he said, adding DeLand poured the tequila. "I just remember being on the porch and then everything went black for me."
He recalled looking at the floor and seeing DeLand's feet in front of him.
"The first time I faded back in, he had his hands on my shoulders," the man said. "The next thing I know, he grabbed my face and started making out with me."
"I didn't know what to feel or what to think," he said, adding he soon "faded out" again.
When he came to a second time, he was standing and looking at the floor again, this time noticing both his and DeLand’s pants were around their ankles with no memory of how they got that way, he testified. He recalled DeLand trying to take his shirt off and DeLand trying to move his hand toward DeLand’s penis, before everything went black again, he testified.
He next remembered standing in DeLand’s bathroom, his pants back on, looking at himself in the mirror, he testified. He didn’t know how much time had lapsed.
During the same hearing, prosecutors played video footage of the man calling DeLand from within a police station interview room and putting the priest on speaker phone.
“Here’s what I... I don’t know what happened. I know we were drinking that tequila and I can remember sitting out on the deck because I was getting a big charge out of you telling me to be quiet and you moved your hand and it was really funny. I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t remember you leaving. I don’t remember what happened. I don’t know what I did," DeLand said on the recording.
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, which suspended DeLand after he was charged, is not commenting further on the matter at this time, a church spokesman said.