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  State to Fight Deal for Priest in Abuse Case
Catholic Leaders Hire Lawyers

By Holly Becka and Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
August 6, 1999

A Dallas priest charged with child molestation would plead guilty and serve unsupervised probation in his native Nigeria under terms proposed by his prominent attorneys, who were hired by local Catholic leaders.

Prosecutors said they would oppose the sentence, which the defense has arranged to present Friday to state District Judge Harold Entz in a hearing not listed on the court docket.

On July 30, an attorney for the Rev. Anthony Nwaogu asked First Assistant District Attorney Mike Carnes to agree to the arrangement and urged him to listen to a tape of a voice-mail message from Judge Entz about the case.

Mr. Carnes said he and his staff did not listen to the defense attorney's tape. "I never did feel compelled to listen to the tape because my response was, we're not going to agree" to probation, he said.

In a brief telephone interview Thursday night, Judge Entz acknowledged leaving such a message but said he had reached no decision.

"No deals," he said. "I haven't heard any evidence.

"I may have opined that I would take into consideration the full penalty range, which by law I'm obligated to do, including but not limited to probation."

Father Nwaogu could not be located for comment Thursday, and his attorneys did not respond to repeated phone messages.

The priest was freed from jail in late June after Judge Entz, despite prosecutors' objections, cut his bail to $5,000 from $50,000. One of his attorneys paid the bail in cash, court records show.

The judge said he acted to allow the priest to enter a Catholic treatment center in Splendora, near Houston. Father Nwaogu left the center last week for a hearing before Judge Entz, according to a letter from a nun who runs the center.

Judge Entz was absent and was replaced by a visiting judge for that hearing, which also was not listed on the court docket. The defense declined to present its case to visiting Judge Thomas Thorpe, who refused to comment on whether he was offered a chance to listen to the tape.

Judge Entz said he was unsure why clerks failed to place Friday's hearing and the previous hearing on the docket.

Father Nwaogu initially admitted to officers that he fondled the genitals and breasts of a 12-year-old parishioner at his South Dallas church, St. Anthony. He has since denied guilt to the local African Herald, saying that contact occurred only when he pushed the girl away after she came on to him.

Mary Edlund, the diocese's chancellor, said she thought Father Nwaogu was in the Dallas area with his attorneys Thursday but that she knew no details. There is no indication in court records that the priest's passport was seized.

Prosecutors say they will have a tough time fighting for a jail sentence Friday because the 12-year-old and her mother have expressed concern about testifying.

Dallas police Detective Jerry Williams said he suspected that someone had pressured the two, noting that they had been very cooperative earlier.

"You kind of read between the lines - it's not normal," the detective said Thursday. "She's not showing up, and the church is reaching out to this guy [Father Nwaogu]. Something is going on here."

Ms. Edlund said she knew of no intimidation. The 12-year-old's mother would say little about that possibility Wednesday, then became speechless and retreated behind a closed door when told that Father Nwaogu had left the treatment center and could not be located.

Moments earlier, the mother said that she had not been advised of the two undocketed court hearings. Prosecutors insisted that she had. She said she had been told that Father Nwaogu might be sentenced to deferred-adjudication probation Aug. 13 - the only hearing listed in court records. If he completed that probation successfully, no conviction would appear on his record.

Lori Watson, an attorney for the mother, said late Thursday that her client had just been advised of Friday's hearing and planned to attend. She said she did not know whether the woman and her daughter would testify.

Ms. Edlund said she had offered moral support to the girl's family, and she confirmed that the Dallas diocese is helping pay for the priest's defense team.

The diocese refused to assist with the defense of former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos during civil and criminal trials in recent years. He is now serving a life sentence in state prison for child sexual abuse.

Asked why Father Nwaogu's situation was different, Ms. Edlund said, "It was simply a concern that he be afforded due process." The diocese suspended his priestly powers immediately after his arrest in May, she added.

Father Nwaogu's attorneys are Kim Wade, a son of former District Attorney Henry Wade who once shared a law office with current District Attorney Bill Hill; and Joanne Hurtekant, who also shared an office with Mr. Hill.

Mr. Hill and his top aide, Mr. Carnes, said they would give no special treatment to lawyers with whom they've worked in the past.

Mr. Wade was out of town and unavailable for comment, his office said; Ms. Hurtekant did not respond to phone messages.

In 1998, Ms. Hurtekant represented suspended priest Richard Tullius, who received unsupervised deferred-adjudication probation for stealing from his Grand Prairie parish. That sentence also came after the priest made a brief, unannounced return to Dallas from a treatment center.

In Father Nwaogu's case, Ms. Hurtekant and Mr. Wade replaced attorney Obinna Duruji, who failed at a May hearing to persuade Judge Entz to reduce his client's bail.

"In refusing to reduce the $50,000 bond, the court observed the absence of any representation from the diocese," Mr. Duruji wrote to diocesan attorney Dennis Sullivan.

In that June 1 letter, he said that Ms. Edlund told him a few days after the priest's arrest "that there were five other [complaints] against Rev. Anthony [Nwaogu] by five other minors."

Ms. Edlund acknowledged speaking to Mr. Duruji after a counselor talked to children at the church school about inappropriate touching. Four or five girls, she said, then reported that "Father had touched them. They described him stroking them on their knees and giving them a pat on their bottom."

 
 

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