|Both Sides Agree Ex-Priest a Molester
Defense Says Evidence Scanty
By Linda Deutsch
Associated Press, carried in Monterey County Herald
February 10, 2006
LOS ANGELES - In an unusual twist, a prosecutor and defense attorney agreed in their closing arguments that a retired priest on trial for molestation was a sexual predator who wrecked many lives decades ago.
But the defense lawyer said Michael Wempe should be acquitted even if jurors hate him because he did not commit the crimes with which he is charged in the current case.
The prosecutor said, "It's time for the defendant to pay for his sins."
Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks portrayed Wempe as an unrepentant molester who went back to his old ways even after he returned from a church treatment program. Hicks compared him to a ferocious lion in the jungle waiting to consume weaker prey.
Wempe's attorney, Leonard Levine, said that while jurors may feel the passions of victims who want Wempe jailed for his past crimes, "there is a principle here that is bigger."
"No matter how much hatred and contempt you have for what that man did in the '70s and '80s, it's about what happened in this case," Levine said. "It's about the law. Without the law we have nothing. It's what our country was founded on."
Repeatedly, he condemned his client's past actions, saying, "What he did in the '70s and '80s were terrible acts, and we all have the right to hate him for that."
But he said that except for the account given by Jayson B., who claims to have been molested in the 1990s, there is no evidence that Wempe molested anyone after he returned from a Catholic treatment center in 1987.
"I'm not giving him a medal for anything he's done in his life," Levine said. "But we have to be grateful that after 1987... no one was molested. No one but Jayson in 18 years? It's unbelievable."
Taking jurors through the evidence presented during the three-week trial, he challenged details of Jayson's story and reminded them they should not judge Wempe "for who he is, to get him off the streets."
Levine said Jayson's allegations were unbelievable -- he told a story made up in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated claims by his two brothers because of time limits.
Hicks focused first on the older cases, citing the testimony of past victims. He spoke of Wempe getting "a great break" when he was sent away for treatment but said he was not cured and re-established contact with Jayson's family when he returned.
"The defendant is an unrepentant child molester who will not change his ways," Hicks said. "... He wanted Jayson. He was the last in a string of brothers who had been molested. The defendant is a hungry child molester, like a hungry lion."
"In this case you can see what he has done to wreck lives," Hicks said. "You have seen the alcoholism, drug abuse, failed relationships, confusion. You have seen questions and you have seen secrets."
He said many of the men who were molested as boys didn't come forward until news of a church scandal in Boston triggered their memories.
Jayson alone, now 26, was able to bring Wempe to court on claims within the statute of limitations and his is the only case that could send the former priest to jail.
The case was expected to go to the jury Friday.
Jayson B. claims he was sexually abused by Wempe between 1990 and 1995 at Wempe's office at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and in two cars.
Wempe, 66, denies molesting Jayson but has acknowledged that Jayson's two older brothers were among 13 boys he abused in the 1970s and 1980s. The former priest cannot be prosecuted for those crimes because the statute of limitations has expired.
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