Legal Wrangling over Hands

By Alfonso A. Castillo
Newsday [Long Island NY]
April 12, 2005

While cooperating with investigators regarding allegations of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, defrocked Catholic priest Michael Hands ended up cooperating more than he should have, and let police in on some of his own wrongdoings, his attorney said yesterday.

Hands, 38, returned to a Riverhead courtroom yesterday for the continuation of a hearing to determine his risk level as a registered sex offender. Prosecutors are asking for the highest level, 3, which would put Hands on a state registry for 10 years and would allow law enforcement to notify Hands' neighbors and publish his address. Hands' defense attorney is asking for a lesser level, saying he is rehabilitated and no longer a threat.

Hands pleaded guilty in 2003 to charges of sodomy and attempted sodomy of a young teen whose family he befriended while he was a parish priest. In exchange for cooperating in a grand jury probe into charges of sex abuse in the Rockville diocese, he served 15 months in prison and was released a year ago.

Much of yesterday's hearing was taken up by wrangling between attorneys and Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow on the admissibility of several damning pieces of evidence Suffolk prosecutors discovered after striking their deal with Hands.

After prosecutors interviewed Hands regarding the grand jury, they said, Hands allowed police to seize a computer from his home. On it, they discovered evidence that he had recently surfed the Internet for child pornography and propositioned teens online. The computer also helped authorities track down four other male victims who admitted to being sexually abused by Hands while they were underage.

Suffolk Police Det. Kimber Mahoney testified yesterday that she visited Hands in his sister's Brooklyn home one Saturday in 2003 to question him about the computer, and that Hands admitted to subscribing to Web sites containing nude photos of teens.

Hands' Rockville Centre attorney Peter Rubin objected to the evidence being allowed into the hearing, saying Hands was interviewed without his attorney present, and that his attorney was not notified about the seizure of his computer.

Rubin maintained that Hands' cooperation agreement with prosecutors was limited to the diocese investigation, and that he was wrongfully questioned about his other acts. "I think this whole thing has to be tossed out," Rubin said. Rubin also took issue with a statement prosecutors presented from a Texas man who said he was abused by Hands as a teen between 30 and 70 times. Rubin said the man was of legal age during the relationship, which was consensual and short-lived.

Braslow allowed all of the evidence into the hearing, which will continue on May 20. "It's very convenient for you now to come back and say, 'Well, he said this and I didn't authorize him to,' " Braslow told Rubin. "Now things are coming out about your client that you don't want the court to hear."