Mom hopeful as attorney general reviews 2016 dropping of sex abuse charges against California priest

CBS News [Sacramento, CA]

November 7, 2023

By Ashley Sharp

A former priest who was held liable years ago for sexually abusing multiple children in the greater Sacramento region is back in the spotlight.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta confirmed to CBS13 that his office will review why all criminal charges were dropped against Father Michael Kelly in Calaveras County in 2016. The charges stemmed from the alleged sexual abuse of victim Trevor Martin, who was 10 at the time. 

“That priest, he stole my son’s life from him,” said Deanna Hampton, Martin’s mother. 

Hampton has never stopped fighting for justice for her son. However, she felt silenced for years until a recent Sacramento Bee investigation revealed that the decision to drop the charges against Kelly may have been mishandled by Calaveras County District Attorney Barbara Yook. 

“There’s a thread that needs to be pulled to expose all of this. I don’t know if this is the thread, but at some point, it is going to happen,” said Hampton. 

Martin came forward to his family as a teenager after a suicide attempt, finally revealing that he was allegedly molested by Kelly when he was an altar boy at the family’s Calaveras County church where Kelly served as a priest from 2000 to 2002. 

Martin, adventurous and daring as his mother describes, would tragically die in a freak base-jumping accident in 2016. 

“The DA told me as soon as they received a death certificate for my son, they were going to drop the charges,” said Hampton. “This is on the heels of just losing Trevor. Them telling me there is no longer a victim, those are their words, not mine. There is no longer a victim. It made me feel like his life did not matter.”

Now, 7 years later, Deanna is demanding answers as to why the DA dropped the charges.

She wrote a letter to Bonta in October after the publication of the Sac Bee investigation, asking him to reopen the case. She was shocked when she got a letter back just a few weeks later.

Bonta’s office wrote to Hampton, “In response to your request, we have agreed to review the District Attorney’s decision for abuse of discretion.”

The letter goes on to explain that when the Attorney General is asked to review a DA’s decision not to pursue charges, they refer to a standard of review that includes asking: would another reasonable prosecutor have come to the same decision? 

The AG’s office says it has collected all of the case evidence from the Calaveras County DA and will begin reviewing it to determine if dropping Kelly’s criminal charges was justified. 

“I was an easy person to push to the side, I guess, at the time. But I am not now,” said Hampton of her determination and optimism in finally having renewed hope in her son’s case. 

Kelly fled to Ireland years ago before a civil trial on sexual abuse charges out of Stockton. He is believed to have lived in the country since. Hampton wants him immediately extradited back to the United States. 

Among many accusations, the Sac Bee investigation reveals the FBI arrested and jailed Kelly in Morocco shortly before Martin’s 2016 death. He was let go and Martin nor his family members were ever made aware. 

Hampton wants Kelly and every person who enabled his long list of alleged sexual abuses as a Catholic priest held accountable. That includes, she says, the Calaveras County prosecutors. 

“I think that they are all responsible. Every one of them are responsible for allowing it to just be swept under the rug once again,” said Hampton. 

CBS13 first reached out to the Calaveras County District Attorney’s Office on Monday for comment, a day before the publication of this story. We have not heard back.