Defense Challenges Molestation Claims As LA Priest Case Nears End

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press, carried in The Press-Enterprise
February 8, 2006


In its third week, the molestation trial of retired priest Michael Wempe is drawing to a close with the defense calling witnesses to challenge the truthfulness of a man who says Wempe abused him in the 1990s.

The dates are crucial because earlier prosecutions of Wempe and other priests were barred by a statute of limitations. Now, the defense is seeking to show that the man who claimed to have been molested more recently by the priest made it all up.

Attorney Leonard Levine called as his first witness a car leasing agent whose testimony suggested that Wempe didn't drive a bright purple-blue Thunderbird at the time that his accuser, Jayson B., claims he was molested in the car.

Car leasing agent Robert A. Smith, said Wempe did not take possession of the car until 1995 when it was leased for him in connection with his job as chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. He said the car's color was called "chameleon blue" because it changed color depending on the light.

The prosecution says Jayson was molested five times between 1990 and 1995. The accuser, now 26, described the colorful car and also testified about being assaulted in a white Ford Explorer. The leasing agent said Wempe obtained that vehicle in 1997.

Jayson told of molestations beginning as early as 1990, some of them in the parking lot of Cedars Sinai Medical Center where Wempe served as chaplain in the latter part of his career. Richard Massey, manager of parking lots at Cedars Sinai testified that Wempe had a parking space in a VIP parking lot that is exceptionally crowded.

To accommodate the 9,000 employees who park there, he said valets often move the cars around and a security guard is on duty with a security camera operating at all times. His testimony suggested that a molestation in a car at that location was unlikely to go undetected.

The defense case, which was expected to conclude Wednesday, began after the prosecution rested following two days of tearful testimony from the mother of Wempe's accuser.

Margaret Percival was one of many prosecution witnesses who told jurors about a distinctive "purple-blue" Thunderbird driven by the priest.

"I thought it was a strange car for a man to drive," she said.

The defense is expected to argue that the distinctive car was known to Jayson's brothers who concocted a plan to falsely accuse Wempe in revenge for their own long-ago molestations.

The 66-year-old former priest denies molesting Jayson but has acknowledged Jayson's two older brothers were among 13 boys he assaulted in the 1970s and 1980s. He cannot be prosecuted for those crimes because the statute of limitations has expired.

Wempe's lawyer has suggested Jayson, now 26, falsely accused Wempe to seek vengeance for his brothers.

Percival, mother of the three brothers, broke down several times Tuesday as attorneys discussed details of her sons' assaults.

"Please don't tell me any more!" she said at one point.

Percival said she had no idea her sons were being molested until the two older sons came to her in 2002 and revealed they had retrieved repressed memories of their abuse.

Published: Wednesday, February 8, 2006 00:02 PST


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