D.A. Investigator Contradicts Accuser at Trial of Wempe
The Witness, Called by the Priest's Lawyer, Is Part of the Defense's Effort to Poke Holes in the Alleged Abuse Victim's Story
By Jean Guccione and Jessica Garrison
Los Angeles Times
February 9, 2006
A prosecution investigator Wednesday contradicted part of the story of the man who is accusing retired priest Michael Wempe of molestation.
Ed Torres, a senior investigator for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, testified that the accuser told him a year ago that he had been molested in the Catholic priest's office at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and in the hospital chapel.
In earlier testimony, the accuser, identified in court as Jayson B., said that he had been molested in the office and the adjoining parking structure. He did not mention the chapel.
Torres, as testimony ended Wednesday, was called as part of the defense's effort to poke holes in Jayson B.'s story.
Another defense witness testified that Wempe did not lease the purple Ford Thunderbird that Jayson B. said he was molested in until after the alleged abuse had ended.
Closing arguments are set to begin today in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom of Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe.
Defense lawyer Leonard Levine has argued that Jayson B. is lying to avenge two older brothers, whose allegations of abuse by Wempe are too old to prosecute. Wempe, 66, faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of all five felony counts of lewd conduct and oral copulation involving a minor.
Levine called only four witnesses but began raising possible doubts about the prosecution's case during his cross-examination of Jayson B., his mother and two brothers.
"It's very clear here that I don't really remember," Jayson B. conceded at one point when Levine pressed him for details about Wempe's cars.
At another point, Jayson B.'s mother, Margaret Percival, testified that she, not Wempe, had initiated the six or seven visits between the priest and her son in the 1990s.
Levine argued that Wempe was cured of pedophilia in 1987, after Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of the Los Angeles Archdiocese received a complaint about the priest, sent him to residential therapy and then returned him to ministry as a hospital chaplain.
The lawyer also tried to portray one of the brothers, known as Lee B., as a "control freak" who orchestrated a plan for Wempe's prosecution after the priest walked out of jail, smiling and proclaiming his innocence, in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned the retroactive prosecution of decades-old child sexual abuse cases.
In another effort to contradict the alleged victim, the head of hospital parking testified that the main Cedars-Sinai parking lot was always crowded, making it an unlikely location for the priest to have orally copulated the boy.
On cross-examination, Torres admitted that he made mistakes in his report, including that Jayson's alleged abuse occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Jayson B. was born in 1979.
Torres' report also states that the alleged abuse occurred in the hospital "rectory." But Torres testified that he chose the word because he thought that it meant "office," not the house where Catholic priests live.
In a risky defense move before the start of the trial, Levine conceded that Wempe had molested 13 boys, but that the priest insisted that he had never inappropriately touched his current accuser.
Eight of those 13 victims, including Jayson B.'s two older brothers, testified at trial in Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks' effort to show that Wempe used a similar pattern of befriending needy families, spending time alone with their sons and then molesting the boys.
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