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  Priest Pleads Guilty to Fondling Girl, 12
Psychologist Will Evaluate Him before Sentencing

By Holly Becka
Dallas Morning News
August 7, 1999

A Dallas priest pleaded guilty Friday to fondling a 12-year-old girl but will not be sentenced until a psychologist evaluates him and officials check his immigration status in his native Nigeria.

State District Judge Harold Entz, who will determine the sentence, ordered the Rev. Anthony Nwaogu jailed until a subsequent punishment hearing, possibly on Aug. 20.

The priest had been out of jail since late June, when Judge Entz cut his bail, over prosecutors' objections, to $ 5,000 from $ 50,000 so he could enter a Catholic treatment center near Houston. The center was to notify the court if he left there, Judge Entz said.

Father Nwaogu faces between two and 20 years in prison or deferred-adjudication probation to be served in Nigeria unsupervised by American courts. Defense attorneys propose probation, but prosecutors want the maximum prison time.

The 12-year-old's mother testified that Father Nwaogu, from St. Anthony Catholic Church in South Dallas, offered his "confession" to her when she confronted him about why her daughter came to her in tears.

"I asked him for the truth," she said. "I didn't tell him anything" about what the girl had said.

"He dropped his head and said he had touched her here," she said, gesturing to her chest, "and in her privates, and said it was not appropriate."

The priest told her, "I'm giving you my confession and to be strong," she testified.

Before the May incident at the priest's house, the family had confided to Father Nwaogu that the girl was sexually abused before the family adopted her. That made the priest's actions even more shocking and upsetting, the girl's mother said.

A friend of the priest later harassed the mother by calling and sending faxes that first made her uncomfortable and then made her angry, she said. The friend falsely claimed to be part of the priest's legal team and told her the African community considered her daughter "a devil child," she testified.

She conceded that she didn't know whether Father Nwaogu had any knowledge of his friend's actions.

Prosecutor Robbie McClung said her office was seeking the maximum punishment based on "egregious" circumstances, including the priest's position in the church and his level of trust with the family.

"There's no way it could ever be a minimum case," she said. "It's in the best interest of that child and every child that he be locked away for as long as possible, and the maximum is 20 years.

"When the alternative is deportation with no supervision and no guidelines, that's not a safe alternative for children."

Woodrow Wilson High School teacher Betty White, one of Father Nwaogu's six supporters in court Friday, testified that the priest had been an asset to the parish during his six years in the Dallas area.

She asked the court to consider probation, saying she believed he could be supervised by the church in Nigeria. She said she also thought that sentence would be most appropriate for the 12-year-old.

Joanne Hurtekant, one of two defense attorneys hired by local Catholic leaders, said afterward that a final decision would have brought welcomed closure, but that she appreciated Judge Entz being so deliberative.

"I think he wants as much information as he can get before he makes a very tough decision," she said.

She also responded to her co-counsel wanting a top prosecutor last week to listen to a tape of a voice-mail from Judge Entz about the case.

Ms. Hurtekant characterized the recording as Judge Entz repeating what he'd said in his chambers when the lead prosecutor in the case was present. She said absolutely nothing improper was said and that she didn't have the tape.

"There were no promises, guarantees, whatever," said Ms. Hurtekant, who with Kim Wade represents Father Nwaogu. "There was no ex parte communication."

Asked why Mr. Wade wanted to play the tape for First Assistant District Attorney Mike Carnes, Ms. Hurtekant said she was unsure.

"I wasn't part of that; I don't know," she said.

Mr. Carnes said he and his staff did not listen to the tape because they weren't going to agree to probation. Mr. Wade is out of town and unavailable for comment. Judge Entz has acknowledged leaving Mr. Wade the message but said he hasn't yet reached a decision about Father Nwaogu.

"No deals," he said previously. "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."

The 12-year-old's mother told Ms. McClung, the prosecutor, she wanted the priest in prison.

"I'm just scared for children, period," she said, adding that she also feared for children in Nigeria if he served unsupervised probation there.

Her feelings since May were "indescribable, very hard. There were some points where I was wondering if I was going to lose my mind," she testified.

Her daughter won't talk about the incident and refuses to return to church, which is difficult for the religious family, she said.

She was only testifying, she said, "because I feel I'm suppposed to, for my daughter."

 
 

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