Dallas County DA Wants Appellate Court to Reconsider New Trial for Former Priest and Sex Offender

By Jennifer Emily
Dallas Morning News
October 31, 2011

The Dallas County district attorney's office has asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider its ruling that overturned the conviction and life sentence of a former Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting an 18-year-old man.

The appellate court ordered a new trial in September because prosecutors did not tell the defense about a possible civil suit against John Anthony Salazar. The court said that had the information been given to the defense, Salazar's 2005 trial may have had a different outcome.

Both the district attorney's office and an attorney for Salazar, Robert Udashen, declined to comment about the case last week.

At Salazar's trial, former State District Judge Gary Stephens forbade questions about a possible lawsuit during cross-examination of the man who said Salazar sexually assaulted him. Had the defense been allowed to question the man about the lawsuit, attorneys likely would have asked about his motive for filing a complaint against Salazar and whether it involved financial gain.

Court records show that during a conference at the judge's bench that was not part of the trial record, defense attorneys asked to question the man about a possible lawsuit. But Stephens denied the request because there was no evidence then of a lawsuit.

Salazar's attorneys were notified 45 minutes after the jury began deliberating his criminal case that a lawsuit was filed.

In court records, one of Salazar's trial attorneys wrote that the timing of the lawsuit was "deliberately calculated," saying it "amounts to a little more than a fraud."

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling -- Brady vs. Maryland -- requires that prosecutors give the defense any information they uncover that would help the defendant.

Dallas County prosecutors Felicia Wasson and Carmen White did not show Stephens or the defense a letter to a civil attorney discussing a possible civil suit about the sexual assault. Wasson, whose last name is now Oliphant, is no longer with the district attorney's office and could not be reached for comment.

In the Dallas County case, the man testified that Salazar -- a longtime family friend and priest -- sexually assaulted him after the two attended a wedding in September 2003. Salazar was technically a priest at the time but had been stripped of his duties and was no longer acting or dressing as a priest.

The man testified that he was assaulted after drinking too much. He said he was too intoxicated to resist Salazar, who had offered to take care of him.

Salazar has two previous convictions for molesting boys in California in the 1980s. He was charged in other cases but not prosecuted.

Salazar was on parole in 1991 when he began working at Church of the Holy Spirit in Tulia, Texas. Congregation members were not told of his criminal past. Salazar was one of at least eight priests brought from Catholic treatment centers for sex offender priests to the Amarillo Diocese.

Tahira Merritt, an attorney for the man and others who sued the Amarillo Diocese for abuse involving Salazar, said the cases were settled for undisclosed amounts in 2006 and 2007.

Merritt said that the man who said Salazar sexually assaulted him after the wedding is willing to testify again if the case is retried.

"We're waiting to hear from the district attorney," she said. "Whatever they need."


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