Judge Orders Jurors to Continue Deliberations in Wempe Trial

February 21, 2006

A former Roman Catholic priest who was "popular, cool and hip" among young parishioners also had "a dark side" in which he molested boys in the Santa Clarita Valley, a prosecutor told a jury.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks made the remarks during his opening statement in the Los Angeles Superior Court trial of 66-year-old retired priest Michael Wempe, who is charged with five felony counts of molesting a male accuser in the early 1990s.

But defense attorney Leonard Levine told jurors that while he is not contesting the allegations of any of the seven previous accusers who will testify during the trial, the man who made the charges in the current case was never abused.

The man, now 25, made up the allegations after a Supreme Court decision barred prosecution of Wempe for molesting his two brothers and others prior to January 1988, Levine said.


"It was the only way to see Michael Wempe punished for what he did to his (the accuser's) family and brothers," Levine said. "This is a case about what did happen and what did not."

Hicks told jurors that Wempe, who was ordained in 1966, became popular with many of his young parishioners and their families because he wore his hair long, liked to camp out, skied and rode motorcycles.



The panel last week reached a unanimous decision on the one count, which alleges Michael E. Wempe orally copulated a boy in the defendant's car during a driving lesson.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe ordered that the verdict remained sealed pending the outcome of further deliberations on the other counts.

The jurors gave Rappe a list of questions, but the judge said answering them would require presenting new evidence and that would be too time-consuming.

Rappe came to his decision after hearing comments from the jurors, then consulting with the attorneys. He said he and the attorneys agreed the panel should keep on trying to reach verdicts, despite apparently strong divisions.

"I understand there are strong views on one side and strong views on the other side," Rappe said.

Even if the jurors are able to reach verdicts by the end of the day, or come to the conclusion that they are hopelessly deadlocked, no verdict would be read until Wednesday morning at the earliest because Rappe has a doctor's appointment this afternoon and will not be in court.

Wempe is accused of molesting a boy in the early 1990s, beginning when he was 11 and ending when he was 15. He faces up to 16 years in prison if convicted of all five counts against him.

The jury has been deliberating since late in the afternoon of Feb. 14, after an original member was replaced with an alternate.

On Friday, the jurors told Rappe about their deliberation problems. Tuesday, they continued to appear divided.

"Some people seem to be ready to leave and have dug in their heels and are not willing to budge," one female juror said.

But another female juror said the panel was close to resolution of at least two of the disputed counts, and that "a few more days of deliberations" could help them resolve their disagreements.

A male juror sitting below her shook his head upon hearing her remarks.

During a brief court session on Friday, one of the jurors told the judge she would like to see a demonstration of how Wempe's accuser, known in court as "Jayson B.," could have sat in the same car seat with the former clergyman.

Jayson B., who sat in the audience Friday and again Tuesday, testified he was touched by Wempe while the ex-priest was giving him a driving lesson.

Another juror said she would like to have Wempe's work schedule at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center clarified. Wempe worked there as a chaplain, and Jayson testified he was molested in the defendant's office there as well as in the parking garage.

Yet another juror asked if the panel could hear new evidence in the case, or just a repeat of what was previously presented.

The jurors reviewed more of the alleged victim's testimony on Friday.

Wempe has admitted molesting 13 boys, including his current accuser's older brothers, while serving as a priest at several parishes in the 1970s and '80s.

He avoided prosecution on those cases after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that suspects cannot be charged with sex crimes if the statute of limitations has run out.

The defense claims the now-26-year-old Los Angeles man came forward with his molestation claims to avenge his brothers' treatment at Wempe's hands.


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