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  Family Upset Plea Bargain Rejected

By Renee Haines
United Press International
September 21, 1988

The family of two boys alleged to have been sexually molested by a Franciscan priest is upset a judge rejected a proposed plea bargain that would have placed him under probation for 10 years, the family's attorney said Wednesday.

The Rev. Federico Fernandez, 39, a former parish priest in San Antonio, was freed after prosecutors suddenly dismissed charges against him when state District Judge Susan Reed Tuesday rejected a proposed plea bargain.

"It's the judge's fault and not the district attorney's fault," Jackson Speed, an attorney for the San Antonio family, said.

Fernandez was accused of last year fondling two brothers, who were ages 10 and 15 at the time.

Under the proposed agreement, Fernandez would have pleaded guilty to charges of indecency with a child in exchange for a sentence that would result in 10 years' probation, as well as the requirement he seek psychiatric help and stay away from children, Speed said.

Speed said his clients wanted Reed to approve the proposed plea bargain because testifying at a trial would have been too traumatic for the children -- a reason prosecutors cited in asking the cases be dismissed.

"Their doctor said they couldn't come testify. They had psychological problems," Speed said.

"The family didn't want to go to trial, but they wanted somehow to punish him and a guarantee he wouldn't be around children," Speed said. "The priest is free now."

Bexar County District Attorney Fred Rodriguez said at an afternoon news conference he followed the wishes of the family.

"We have always looked out for the interest of the victim," Rodriguez said. "They had already been victimized once."

Reed said Wednesday she rejected the proposed plea bargain because she did not believe the defendant should be treated specially because he was a priest.

"That plea bargain was not something which I would normally do in that particular type of case, so I felt he should be treated as everyone else. I told them and the parties I believed a jury should make the determination if the man were to get probation, as they were recommending," Reed said.

While Reed said she agreed the older child should not testify, she did not believe the younger child's state of mind "was any different situation than any other children faced with a traumatic situation."

Reed said she met with the children's psychotherapist.

"She hadn't even seen the children in three months," Reed said. "There wasn't an excuse not to treat this like I treated everything else."

Reed ordered her clerk to begin calling potential jurors for a trial, but the Bexar County district attorney's office suddenly requested the case be dismissed, which she said she was obliged to allow.

"I'm the judge, not the prosecutor. If they don't put on the evidence, if the district attorney makes the decision not to prosecute, there isn't much I can do about that," she said.

Speed said he disagreed with Reed's reasoning.

"She made some kind of statement the priest should not receive more favorable treatment. This was 10 years' probation. The last child molestation case I handled was five years' (probation), and he was just a common person," Speed said.

"The district attorney fashioned a plea bargain out and we agreed, and everybody seemed to be happy," Speed said. "We thought the judge would try to fashion out some sort of justice. Some justice is better than no justice."

Fernandez, who was transferred from the San Antonio church last fall, reportedly had been living at a religious retreat in New Mexico while awaiting trial.

 
 

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