Retired priest Hecker pleads not guilty; gets $800k bond for rape, kidnapping charges

WWL-TV [New Orleans LA]

September 13, 2023

By David Hammer

Hecker pled not guilty to all four counts of aggravated rape, kidnapping, crime against nature and theft charges in court Wednesday morning.

Retired Catholic priest Lawrence Hecker pleaded not guilty in court Wednesday, five days after he turned himself in to Orleans Parish jail on aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crime against nature and theft charges.

He’s accused in a grand jury indictment of anally raping a teenage boy in 1975 or 1976 after the unnamed victim “resisted to the utmost but … was overcome by force.”

The victim’s civil attorney, Richard Trahant, told WWL-TV and our partners at The Guardian newspaper that Hecker, a wrestling coach at the time at the boy’s high school, St. John Vianney Prep, told the teen he wanted to show him a wrestling move, then choked him until he was unconscious.

Trahant said the alleged attack happened inside St. Theresa the Little Flower of the Child Jesus church attached to St. John Prep, when his client was 15 or 16 years old. Hecker would have been 43-45 years old at the time.

Hecker turns 92 on Thursday, and he’ll likely have to spend his birthday in jail. He sat in an orange jumpsuit and yellow handcuffs for his arraignment Wednesday and did not get up when his three-man legal team stood to represent him for the hearing.

After the hearing, a sheriff’s deputy pushed Hecker out of the courtroom in a wheelchair to bring him back to jail, where he could stay until trial.

Judge Ben Willard set Hecker’s bond at $855,000. Hecker’s defense team asked for $100,000 total and home confinement, but the aggravated rape charge alone carried a $500,000 bond.

Hecker’s defense attorney, Bobby Hjortsberg, says his client doesn’t have the money to get out of jail and will seek reconsideration of the bond.

Hecker’s civil attorney, Eugene Redmann, argued in court that Hecker is “not all there.”

But when WWL and The Guardian interviewed Hecker outside his Uptown apartment last month, he stood for 18 minutes and answered all questions clearly.

“I watched your coverage…. He stood and answered yours and (Guardian reporter) Ramon Vargas’ questions in the heat — and it was blistering — for 18 minutes straight without needing to sit down or take a break or get water,” Trahant said after the arraignment. “And it is similar to what Bill Cosby did, what Harvey Weinstein did. Once they are indicted, all of a sudden they need walkers and wheelchairs and they can’t stand up and they can’t understand things.”

In Hecker’s interview with WWL and the Guardian in August, he admitted publicly for the first time that he had sex with at least three underage boys in the 1960s and 70s. In a secret typed confession to church leaders in 1999, obtained by the Guardian, Hecker called one 15-year-old boy “100% willing.” But he denied in the on-camera interview that he ever choked out and raped anyone or had sex with a teen against his will.

WWL asked Hjortsberg if Hecker can afford to post bail, which would require a 10% payment of more than $80,000, and he said, “No.” Hjortsberg declined to say who is paying for him and other attorneys to handle Hecker’s defense.

“These allegations are older than I am,” Hjortsberg said from the courthouse steps. “We haven’t seen any evidence in the case. There’s nothing to say that he’s a flight risk and certainly not a danger to the community. We said that he would give up his passport. We said he would stay under house arrest. So, I’m not sure what else we can offer. A bond is not designed to detain someone before they’ve been proven to be guilty.”

The last time a clergyman was charged with child rape, in 2019, Deacon George Brignac, then 85, was given a $40,000 total bond. He died before standing trial.

Ned McGowan, who is Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams’ first assistant and is handling the Hecker prosecution, said in court he would push for a speedy trial and would work to redact and turn over more than 4,000 documents of evidence to the defense team by early to mid-October.

Hecker’s lead defense attorney, Hjortsberg, used to work for Williams, the DA. Hjortsberg pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor tax charge in 2021 and was supposed to testify against Williams at his tax fraud trial last year but recanted his testimony less than two weeks before trial.

Williams was acquitted of all charges at trial in federal court last summer.