Family Testifies against Priest

By Bob Campbell
The Telegram
December 1, 2004

A 21-year-old man who claims former Our Lady of Guadalupe priest Domingo Estrada sexually abused him as a child, broke down to tears several times Tuesday while testifying of events alleged to have occurred more than a decade ago.

"I don't want anybody to go through what I had to live through," the young man said, after telling a 10-man, two-woman jury of repeated sexual encounters he said took place on the priest's bed inside the rectory during his first-, second- and third-grade years. "It made me feel kind of nasty."

The young man's brother also testified, saying Estrada liked to bring them to play inside his bedroom, tell them they were "good boys" while hugging them and tickling their faces with a beard he wore at the time.

The alleged victim testified the priest made genital and anal contact with him on various occasions at the rectory.

"The only thing I could think of is, 'I don't like this,'" the young man said.

The brother does not claim to have been sexually assaulted.

Upon reaching early adulthood, the young man told his mother the priest, who was so loved and revered by the whole family, had betrayed his trust.

"He represents God to us," the mother said of how the family thought of Estrada. "He was the only person I trusted my kids with."

Estrada sometimes went to the family home after Sunday mass and ate dinner with them, testimony showed.

The mother said she received no support from the church once she sought help for her son.

"Why did you want to press charges?" Midland County First Assistant District Attorney Teresa Clingman asked the tearful mother.

"Because he had hurt my son and I wanted him to go to jail," she replied.

The brother, a year younger than the young man, also broke down and cried on the witness stand when talking about what the priest meant to their family and expressed anger at what his brother said the priest had done.

"We really loved him," the brother said. "He was somebody we really looked up to."

Therapist David Hernandez of the Midland Rape Crisis and Children's Advocacy Center testified as to the dynamics of child sexual abuse and "grooming" techniques child predators often employ in order to desensitize victims as abuse eventually escalates.

Just before 5 p.m., after calling four witnesses, the state rested its case, and defense attorney Tom Morgan called his first witness.

Fellow Catholic Marsha Fairchild, who said she did not know the victim, testified she observed the young man approach the priest and embrace him in May 2001.

"He said, 'I am so glad, so happy to see you' É He was genuinely happy to see him. He rushed over to him," Fairchild said.

The woman said she recalled that incident after the priest got into trouble.

"Later on, when I found out Father had been accused of this, I remembered," she said.

During opening remarks, Morgan suggested the young man's motive was getting money from the Catholic Church. Clingman presented evidence showing a civil attorney had never been retained.

"Remember, we don't have to prove anything," Morgan told jurors. "They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt," and suggested the jury would have reasonable doubt once all the evidence is presented.

Several other defense witnesses including Estrada himself are expected to testify today.

Trial proceedings have attracted large crowds, with Estrada's loyal supporters packing in behind the priest's defense chair and aggressively blocking him from news cameras whenever he leaves the courtroom.

Victim advocates, family members, colleagues and friends have packed the other side of the courtroom, sharing tears during difficult testimony while showing their support for the young man.

San Angelo Diocese Bishop Michael Pfeifer, who has not been in attendance, has sent a deacon representing him and the diocese to observe the trial.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.