Priest Brazen after Arrest, Officer Says

By John Makeig
Houston Chronicle
January 8, 1988

A Houston police juvenile officer testified Thursday a Catholic priest, hours after being arrested for sexually molesting a 9-year-old boy, said authorities "won't do anything to me."

Officer Alphonso Amato Jr. said the Rev. Donald Leroy Stavinoha, 44, made the statement in a Houston Police Department elevator.

Amato's testimony at the priest's trial brought quick and heated objections from defense attorney Andy Horne.

Prosecutor Jim Buchanan said the policeman's testimony about the remark, which came early on May 1, 1986, while Stavinoha was still in police custody, was meant to refute contentions of defense witnesses that the priest was remorseful after his arrest.

Caught in the act by a police officer, Stavinoha has pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges and is seeking a probated sentence from jurors in state District Judge Albert Pruett's court.

Psychologists, in testimony Thursday, described Stavinoha as an obsessive-compulsive personality - a man who tries to overachieve to counteract feelings of inadequacy, and a man with the psychosexual development of a child.

A defense psychologist, Wendell Dickerson of Bryan, who formerly headed the state prison system's psychological services section, said the priest would have "a very hard time" in prison.

Dickerson said Stavinoha has tried to remain asexual and probably last felt intimacy when he was in his early teens and entered a seminary to begin training for the priesthood.

Stavinoha's sexual development froze at the level of a 9- or 10-year-old, Dickerson said.

Dickerson said Stavinoha would fare better at a facility such as the Catholic Church's Albuquerque Villa in New Mexico, where 14 "troubled priests" now undergo therapy, than he would in prison.

State witness Michael Cox, head of Baylor University's sex offender program, testified that treatment for child molesters is available in the Texas Department of Corrections, but not of the quality level found outside prison.

About 4,500 of the TDC's 40,000 inmates are in prison on sex-related charges, Cox said, and their recidivism rate - meaning how often they are returned to prison for subsequent sex offenses - is among the highest.

Prosecutor Jon Munier questioned Cox on the premise that Stavinoha has a sexual preference for children of the same approximate age as the victim, now 11.

Munier ticked off a list of findings detailed by Cox and Dickerson - obsessive-compulsive behavior, stymied psychological development, denial of being a child molester - and asked what promise a therapy program might hold for a man such a Stavinoha.

"The program would be more difficult," Cox said. "I don't think that individual would be treatable."


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