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  Priest Pleads to Sex Assault
Guzman Gets 10 Years

By Evan Moore
Houston Chronicle
June 4, 1992

Anderson -- A Catholic priest has pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child and received a 10-year sentence, with the stipulation that he will be eligible for shock probation by mid-September.

Fernando Noe Guzman entered his plea Wednesday after a jury had been seated for his trial in the 278th District Court here. As part of the plea bargain, Guzman is to begin serving his sentence June 14 and will become eligible for probation 90 days later. The assaults began in 1984 while Guzman headed the Navasota church and continued until 1986. Grimes County District Attorney David Barron said he consulted the victim, who was 13 when the assaults began and is now 22, and she agreed to the terms before the plea bargain was made.

"She found this acceptable," said Barron. "She didn't want to testify. She had agreed to testify and she was willing to, but she was reluctant, and I didn't want to put her through it if we didn't have to.

"This way (under the terms of probation), at least he'll be under some supervision. If he'd been found guilty and gotten 10 years, he very likely would be out in a few months on parole and wouldn't be supervised nearly as closely. " The maximum penalty in Guzman's case is a 20-year sentence and a $ 10,000 fine.

Shock probation can be applied only in cases in which the convict has no prior felony record. It is granted under the assumption that a few months in jail will be traumatic enough to prevent the person from repeating his crime.

Guzman, 40, a priest in the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, was brought to Navasota from Mexico in 1984. He began having sex with the girl shortly afterward and continued for the next two years. A social worker visiting the girl's grandfather caught the priest with her on the kitchen floor and reported the incident to another priest.

Police were not notified, however, and Guzman was moved to a church in Galena Park, Barro said.

The case came to light in 1990 when Debbie McCorvey, a secretary at the Galena Park church, accused Guzman of coercing her into a sexual relationship. McCorvey also accused the diocese of failing to control Guzman even though it had ample evidence of his past sexual misconduct.

A jury found the diocese was not liable for Guzman's relationship with McCorvey. In depositions for that case, however, Guzman admitted having sex with the girl in Navasota. He was indicted in that case in October 1990.

Defense attorney Candelario Elizondo said Guzman's English is severely limited and he did not understand the ramifications of his confession.

Elizondo said Guzman was removed from his duties after he was indicted and has not served as a priest since. The lawyer said Guzman has been working for a Houston real estate agency, dealing with Spanish-speaking clients.

"He can not function as a priest in this country now because he has no church," said Elizondo.

He added, however, that he does not know whether Guzman can serve as a priest in Mexico.

 
 

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