L.A. Priest Abuse Trial Goes to the Jury

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press, carried in Washington Post
February 10, 2006

LOS ANGELES -- Jurors began deliberating Friday in the sexual abuse trial of a retired priest, whose own attorney denounced his past as a child molester but argued that he didn't molest this accuser.

Michael Wempe is charged with sexually abusing a boy, identified in court only as Jayson B., from 1990 to 1995.

The 66-year-old former priest has acknowledged that Jayson's two older brothers were among 13 boys he abused in the 1970s and 1980s _ crimes for which he cannot be prosecuted now because the statute of limitations has expired. But he denies molesting Jayson.

In closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney Leonard Levine urged jurors not to convict Wempe based on what they know of his past actions.

"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.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks told jurors Wempe is as guilty of sexually abusing a boy in the 1990s as he was decades ago.

"He's gone back to his old ways," Hicks said.

The current case is the only one that could send Wempe to jail.

Levine said the claims by Jayson, now 26, were fabricated to seek vengeance for his brothers. There is no evidence Wempe molested anyone after returning from a church treatment center in 1987, he said.

"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."

The prosecutor called those arguments "wildly speculative," saying "there might be someone watching this on TV or reading it in the newspaper now who will come forward.

"The defendant is an unrepentant child molester who will not change his ways."

Hicks 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.


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