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  Priest Gets Plea Bargain, Ending Molestation Trial

By Jim Walsh
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
October 29, 2004

A last-minute plea bargain allowed a priest accused of child molestation to receive a far shorter sentence and his victim to pursue his dream in the military.

A day after his trial started in Maricopa County Superior Court, the Rev. Karl LeClaire pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault with sexual motivation. Charges of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor were dropped.

LeClaire, 48, former principal of Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mesa, now faces a sentence of three years' probation and a maximum of one year in jail. The plea also requires LeClaire to submit to DNA testing and to have no contact with his victim or children.

He could have received 10 to 24 years in prison on the original charges.

Prosecutor Rachel Mitchell said the plea allows the victim to enlist in the U.S. Army for training as a Ranger before he turns 23 next week. "He definitely wanted this plea," she said. The victim's "entire motivation in coming forward was to keep this from happening to another kid."

Judge Sherry Stephens will decide whether LeClaire must register as a sex offender when she sentences him Dec. 3.

"You have an ending to it. You don't put more people through more anguish," said Dan Sheperd, LeClaire's attorney.

CORRECTION:

Published ran 11/04/2004: "Priest gets plea bargain, ending molestation trial," Oct. 29, B4 - The story contained erroneous information about why the victim in a molestation case involving the Rev. Karl LeClaire agreed to a plea bargain for his abuser. The victim wanted to meet an age deadline for Navy SEALs training.

 
 

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