Juror Replaced in LA Priest Abuse Case, Deliberations Start over

By Linda Deutsch
The Associated Press, carried in Contra Costa Times
February 14, 2006

LOS ANGELES - Jurors deliberating the molestation trial of a retired Roman Catholic priest were told Tuesday to start their talks anew after one member of the panel had to be replaced due to a family emergency.

The jury had spent only one day deliberating the case of Michael Wempe before a long weekend - Monday was a holiday. They returned to their task Tuesday. The man who asked to be excused said he had to leave town due to the death of his grandfather. Lawyers in the case agreed to let him go.

He was replaced by another man from the pool of four alternates.

Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe told the panel to start their talks anew "as if the earlier deliberations had not taken place."

On Friday, at the end of their first day of talks, the panel had asked for readback of testimony. The request was not filled Tuesday because the jury composition changed and the judge said the request would have to be renewed if they still wanted to hear the readback.

The jurors had asked to hear a limited portion of testimony from the state's key witness, a 26-year-old man who claimed he was molested by Wempe.

Jurors heard three weeks of testimony, much of it focusing on uncharged crimes that happened decades ago but could not be prosecuted due to a statute of limitations.

Eight men were permitted to tell jurors about being molested by Wempe during the 1970s and 80s, crimes he acknowledges. But the five charges against him in the current case involve only Jayson B, the brother of two men molested decades ago. Wempe's defense lawyer argued that the younger man fabricated his claims in order to get revenge for his brothers.

The impact of the past crimes on the jurors' consideration of the case was addressed in a specific legal instruction.

"If you conclude that the defendant committed the uncharged offenses," the instruction said, "that conclusion is only one factor to consider along with all the other evidence. It is not sufficient by itself to prove that the defendant is guilty of the crimes charged. The people must still prove each element of every charge beyond a reasonable doubt."


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