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  Judge Dismisses Molestation Charges against Priest

By Evan Moore
Houston Chronicle
July 29, 1997

SINTON - The trial of the Rev.Jesus Garcia ended before it began Monday when a judge dismissed a charge of sexual assault of a child against the Catholic priest and set him free.

The ruling left Garcia's accusers stunned and ended comparisons between his case and that of the Rev. Rudy Kos in Dallas. In that case, a civil jury last week awarded 11 plaintiffs nearly $ 120 million from Kos and the Catholic diocese of Dallas, the largest amount ever assessed in a priest molestation case.

In Garcia's case, state District Judge Joe Johnson's ruling hinged on an appeals court decision. In that decision, the court said a 1993 law allowing sexual assault victims more time to come forward could not be applied retroactively.

"This has damaged our entire family," said an angry Santos Olivarez Sr., the father of the alleged victim.

"I pray that this dismissal brings us closer to a final resolution of this matter and a spiritual healing so needed by the involved parties and the entire community," said the Rev. Roberto Gonzalez, who was appointed bishop of the Corpus Christi diocese after the charges were made against Garcia.

Garcia, 39, was charged with the 1991 assault of then-15-year-old Santos Olivarez Jr. during an overnight stay at the rectory of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Mathis, a small town near Corpus Christi.

The teen, who first made his accusation against the priest in 1994, alleged Garcia slipped drugs into a glass of milk, then sodomized him when he was sleeping.

The priest has maintained he was out of the country at the time of the alleged assault. He called the dismissal Monday "a great relief. " He still faces a civil suit by Olivarez and three others who claim he also assaulted them.

"I am so thankful to God and so many good people because they always believed in my innocence," Garcia told The Associated Press.

Garcia fled Texas for his native Spain after Olivarez made his accusation in 1994. Under the cloud of a fugitive warrant, the priest returned to Texas last December. He was freed on bond and has been assistant pastor at a Corpus Christi church.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that the judge cited in dismissing the case was a 1996 decision on an El Paso rape case. The court ruled that a 1993 state law did not apply because the alleged crime occurred before 1993. The new law allows prosecution of a sexual assault case - even those that are several years old - if the alleged victim is 18 or younger or if he reports the crime within one year.

The judge in Garcia's case said because the charge was based on an alleged crime that happened in 1991, he would rely on the old state law. That requires such cases to be prosecuted only if the victim is younger than 14 or if he came forward within six months.

Olivarez was 15 at the time of the alleged assault and he waited three years to come forward.

Prosecutor Grant Jones said the judge informed him on Friday that he intended to follow the appeals court ruling, leaving him with no case to prosecute.

Houston attorney David Berg, who represents Olivarez in a civil suit, said he was dismayed at the action Monday.

"This judge set himself up as an appeals court," said Berg. "I was heartened by the Kos ruling, however, and I think the church ought to sit back and decide whether they're going to do the right thing in these cases or try and slip by on technicalities. "

Jones said Monday's action ""doesn't mean anything about the guilt or innocence of Garcia. That hasn't been resolved. I just hope the Olivarez family and the others (who have said they were molested by Garcia) can understand. "

They couldn't. Olivarez's parents, Adella and Santos Sr., approached Johnson at the bench and asked why he had ended their son's hope for a trial.

"I have looked at every aspect of this case," the judge told them.

"You haven't looked at us," replied the elder Olivarez.

Tony Canales, former U.S.attorney in Houston and currently defending Garcia, denied that the criminal case was dismissed on a technicality.

"This is a fact-intensive case," Canales said. ""We've done our research and the allegations against my client won't hold up. "

Canales said Garcia would remain in the United States for depositions in the civil case and would be present when that case goes to trial.

"But the civil case is only about money," Adella Olivarez said. ""We don't care about money.

"We wanted to see him in jail. "

 
 

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