Jury Clears Priest in Child Sex Case

By Bob Campbell
The Telegram
December 3, 2004

A 238th District Court jury deliberated for 6 1/2 hours Thursday before acquitting former Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church pastor Domingo Gonzalez Estrada of all charges related to the alleged sexual abuse of a boy from 1989 to 1993.

The jury came back at 6:10 p.m., and Judge John Hyde read over the findings before slowly intoning, "On count one, we the jury find the defendant 'not guilty.'"

He continued until reading the same verdict on the sixth and last count, when a young woman on the packed south side of the courtroom with Estrada's supporters let loose a scream of joy and fell backwards into the arms of a spectator on the next row.

Hyde ordered the woman removed and that side of the courtroom cleared, and the alleged victim's family and supporters were taken by First Assistant District Attorney Teresa Clingman to her office on the second floor. Filling almost every seat and lining the walls, the verdicts were heard by about 100 people.

Acting as family spokesman, Midland Rape Crisis Center volunteers coordinator Greg Stephen read a statement saying, "The people have been made aware. There are no winners in this case. He (Estrada) will still answer to God. We hope this day never happens to anyone else."

Stephen added that the alleged victim and his family "are very disappointed."

Estrada could have gotten five to 99 years or life in prison if found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child and two to 20 years on each of the other five counts of indecency with a child.

San Angelo Diocese Bishop Michael Pfeifer Thursday night said he was pleased with the outcome.

"I'm always sad when I hear a priest accused of sexual abuse of a minor, so I'm happy to know the jury didn't find Father Domingo guilty," Pfeifer said.

"When there is a true victim, you always reach out and offer assistance. I followed the trial through a representative and did not hear or read where the offer I made of assistance was ever brought up. I had offered to help the supposed victim through two priests in Midland almost two years ago," said Pfeifer, adding that neither the alleged victim nor his family responded.

"Now it's time for all of us to lift up our hearts to the Lord, pray for all people involved and ask God's healing and God's help." The bishop said Estrada hasn't worked as a priest since his arrest and that any future assignments will be made by his superior in the Oblate Order of San Antonio.

Estrada's attorney, Tom Morgan, said, "Justice was served, and this wrong has been made right. I will ask the court to expunge Father Domingo's arrest and fully restore his very good name."

Estrada declined comment.

Clingman thanked jurors for their service but said she, too was "very disappointed."

Red-eyed like the alleged victim and many of his family members and other supporters, the prosecutor sat with them to commiserate before taking them to her office. Security officers cleared the parking lot outside before the second group of partisans was brought out.

In final arguments before jurors got the case at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Morgan and Clingman clashed sharply over the young man's credibility and accuracy of other witnesses' testimony.

Unfolding more than 70 points of dispute on a large tablet, Morgan said the man was financially motivated to testify Estrada committed various acts of anal and genital abuse.

Clingman said the progression of incidents culminated with aggravated sexual assault on June 6, 1993, while church members outside made preparations for a shrine dedication. It was the boy's 10th birthday.

Estrada was congratulated on his 63rd birthday Wednesday by well-wishers in the hallway outside the fourth floor courthouse courtroom.

Contrary to the alleged victim's testimony, Morgan said the young man contacted Odessa lawyer Steve Brannan in 2002 about representing him and his family in a civil lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio and didn't send a certified letter to take Brannan off the case until the week before Estrada's trial.

Indignant throughout his 40-minute presentation, the Midland attorney said, "If he's found guilty, the Catholic Church is going to be sued. He told you under oath he had never retained an attorney. He lied.

"Please go over the evidence," Morgan pleaded. "There is reasonable doubt all over the place. Proof beyond reasonable doubt? No way!"

Having been hired to defend the priest, Morgan said the alleged victim told Midland Police Det. Kay Therwanger his mother made him go into La Promosa Foundation to see Estrada in May 2001 and told him to invite Estrada to his high school graduation.

The lawyer said several La Promesa staff members, across the 1400 block of Garden Lane from the church, testified the young man came in alone, hugged Estrada and invited him to the graduation without being prompted.

In equally emotional arguments, Clingman said the youth's behavior that day was no evidence he hadn't been abused. "Children try to keep things stable," she said. "They don't want to upset the applecart. That kind of behavior is not unusual."

Clingman took umbrage at Morgan's assertion the young man and his family were venally motivated.

Referring to the youth's other brothers, she asked, "If this were the money-grubbing family the defense would have you believe they are, don't you know all three of these boys would have told you it happened to them, too?"

She said police couldn't pinpoint dates of other offenses because "he remembers these incidents through the eyes of a child. A child remembers events, smells and sounds."

Morgan noted discrepancies between the young man's description of Estrada's bedroom and descriptions of other witnesses who had worked in and visited the church. Clingman said the youth's memories were accurate enough to prove he'd been there, disputing the priest's assertions to the contrary.

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