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  Hanford Priest Rejects Plea Offer Trial for the Rev. Miguel Flores, Who Is Accused of Raping Teen, Is Expected to Start Aug. 19

By Kerri Ginis
Fresno Bee
July 23, 2002

A Hanford priest accused of raping a 16-year-old girl rejected a plea deal Monday, choosing instead to go to trial.

The trial for the Rev. Miguel Flores, who is free on bond, is expected to begin Aug. 19. Prosecutors offered him a deal in which he would have served three years in prison for pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

"Father Flores' position regarding this matter has not changed, and that is he denies the allegations against him," said his attorney, Rick Conway of Hanford.

Conway met briefly with Superior Court Judge Lynn Atkinson and prosecutor Anna Ferguson in the judge's chambers Monday afternoon, while Flores waited outside the courtroom, surrounded by a dozen supporters.

The plea offer was made last week by the Kings County District Attorney's Office. Flores was being asked to plead guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, and to admit to witness intimidation.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Hart said he was hoping Flores would accept the deal.

"We would have liked to spare the victim the ordeal of going to trial," Hart said. "But, if we have to go to trial, we have to go to trial. We're ready."

Flores, 34, is charged with three counts of forcible rape, three counts of statutory rape, dissuading a witness and criminal threat charges. If convicted of all charges, the priest could spend up to 27 years in prison.

Flores has been a Roman Catholic priest for the past seven years, serving in Tranquillity before being assigned this year to Hanford's Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.

Prosecutors said Flores raped the 16-year-old girl in January at the St. Paul Church in Tranquillity and twice in February at his church residence in Hanford. The girl, who was Flores' assistant, reported the final sexual assault three weeks after it occurred.

Conway has questioned the girl's credibility because she did not tell investigators about two of the alleged rapes in her first interview. Prosecutors said the girl was afraid to say anything because Flores threatened her, saying she would regret it if she told anybody what had happened.

The victim, who is not being named because of her age and the nature of the charges, is expected to testify during the trial, Hart said.

"This little girl is a pretty articulate young lady," he said. "She's a very believable little girl."

Flores' supporters said they don't believe the allegations. They've attended nearly every court proceeding and said they will stand by him throughout the trial.

"We know him, and we believe he's innocent," said Rita Cisneros, who has known Flores for seven months. "He's very special, and he's always very spiritual."

 
 

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