Ex-Priest Guilty of Sexual Assault
Irving: Already a Convicted Sex Offender, Man Could Get Life
By Robert Tharp
Dallas Morning News
July 1, 2005
A former Catholic priest with a history of molesting boys was convicted late Thursday of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man in an Irving hotel room.
Jurors deliberated nearly five hours before finding John Salazar guilty of sexual assault. As victims of Mr. Salazar hugged, he was led away to jail.
Mr. Salazar's punishment will be determined by Judge Gary Stephens after a hearing Wednesday. Because he is already a convicted sex offender, prosecutors will argue that the law requires that he be automatically sentenced to life in prison.
In the Irving case, Amarillo resident Beau Villegas testified that Mr. Salazar – his family's longtime friend and priest – sexually assaulted him after a wedding party the two had attended in September 2003.
Mr. Salazar was technically a priest at the time but had been stripped of all his duties and was no longer acting or dressing as a priest.
Mr. Villegas said the assault occurred after Mr. Salazar offered to take care of him after he had become ill from drinking 10 beers and at least three mixed drinks. He said he was too intoxicated to resist.
Jurors in the trial did not learn about Mr. Salazar's criminal past, which includes two convictions and a six-year prison sentence for molesting boys in California in the 1980s and other charges that were not prosecuted.
Unknown to congregation members at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia, Texas, Mr. Salazar was still on parole when he began working there in 1991. He was one of at least eight priests brought in by the Amarillo diocese from Catholic treatment centers for sex offender priests.
"I'm just glad justice has been served," Mr. Villegas said. "People in the Catholic community have suffered ... after he slipped through the cracks so many times. He finally got what was coming to him."
Carlos Perez-Carrillo, 39, accused Mr. Salazar of molesting him as a teenager in California but was unable to see his case go to trial because of a 2003 Supreme Court decision regarding statutes of limitations. He said Thursday's verdict felt like a vindication for him.
"I've been waiting for this day for 25 years," he said. "Because Beau got justice, I feel like I got justice, and that's good. ... He'll never be able to hurt another child or another vulnerable adult for the rest of his life."
Mr. Perez-Carrillo was critical of Catholic leaders for allowing Mr. Salazar to continue to work as a priest after he was released from prison in California.
"It's unfortunate that there had to be another generation of abuse at the hands of John Salazar," he said.
Minutes after the two sides finished closing arguments in the trial on Thursday, Mr. Salazar was served with notice of a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages from the assault by Mr. Villegas.
Because Mr. Villegas was 18 and legally an adult at the time of the incident, the trial's outcome hinged on whether the jury agreed that Mr. Salazar forced himself on Mr. Villegas.
Prosecutors Felicia Wasson and Carmen White argued that the incident was not consensual in two ways – that Mr. Salazar used his influence as a clergyman over Mr. Villegas and that Mr. Salazar knew that Mr. Villegas was too intoxicated to resist.
"This man was supposed to represent God to him, and he abused that," Ms. White said.
Mr. Salazar's attorneys, Leigh Demasi and James Vasilas, countered that Mr. Villegas could not have recalled so many details if he had been as drunk as he claimed.
Attorneys also argued that Mr. Salazar was no longer a priest at the time of the incident. He had resigned more than a year before the assault, shortly before Catholic bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy on priests accused of sexual offenses.
But Catholic officials testified that although he had resigned and was prevented from performing most priestly duties, he was still a priest.
Attorneys also questioned why Mr. Villegas said in initial statements that he remembered little of what happened because he had been drunk but later recalled more and more details.
If Mr. Villegas was lucid enough to remember details of the incident, Ms. Demasi said, he would have had the mental capabilities to resist sexual advances.
In earlier interviews, Mr. Salazar had said that the sexual contact was a consensual act between two adults. His attorneys were constrained from raising that defense in his trial because it would have opened the door for prosecutors to introduce details about Mr. Salazar's prior convictions and accusations, which would have shown that he had molested boys in the past.
Juror Wendy Foster praised Mr. Villegas for filing charges and testifying in court, which she said was the most powerful testimony in the trial.
"The facts of the case told us he was guilty," she said. "I'm proud of Beau Villegas for standing up when he had every reason not to."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.