Experts Say Another Trial for Pedophile Priest Unlikely
By Linda Deutsch
Associated Press, carried in Contra Costa Times
February 23, 2006
LOS ANGELES - The conviction of a retired Roman Catholic priest on one count of child molestation left four other charges unresolved. But legal experts believe there will be no second trial for Michael Wempe.
"I think the prosecution was looking for a symbolic victory and they got it," Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said after jurors convicted Wempe on Wednesday of one count of child molestation and deadlocked on four others.
"Now they can walk away and say he didn't get away with it," added Levenson, a former federal prosecutor.
Defense attorney Steve Cron, who has handled other molestation cases, said he expects the district attorney's office to consult with the victim before deciding whether to seek a second trial on the unresolved charges. But he agreed with Levenson that the case is likely over.
"They'll ask what he wants to do and they will look at the case to see if there are things they could have done that were more convincing," said Cron. "My guess is they will not want to go through this again."
For Wempe, Wednesday's verdict sends him to jail for a while and requires that he register as a sex offender. He could be sentenced to as much as three years in prison but he has already spent a year in jail awaiting trial on other charges, and he will be credited for that.
"From his standpoint, it doesn't hurt his reputation because he had no reputation left," said Levenson." This case was unpleasant for everyone and now it just goes away."
Wempe, 66, does not deny that he molested 13 boys decades ago - acts that could not be included in this trial because the statute of limitations had expired.
But Wempe's attorneys said the retired priest did not molest the one individual whose accusations brought him to trial. They maintained that that man, identified in court as Jayson B., framed the former priest as retribution for Wempe's having molested his two older brothers.
When jurors could only reach a verdict on one of five counts in Jayson B's case, Superior Court Judge Curtis Rappe declared a mistrial on the others. The district attorney has until March 10 to decide whether to retry the unresolved counts.
For a month, Rappe's courtroom had been a boiling emotional cauldron, with one man after another taking the witness stand, breaking down in tears and denouncing the retired Roman Catholic priest who had molested them decades ago. As he listened to their stories, Wempe cried too.
But when he was convicted of the single count Wednesday, all was calm.
The priest stoically walked off to jail, his victim sat quietly, his jaw clenched, and the jurors quickly left the building without commenting.
Deputy District Attorney Todd Hicks said he was pleased with the verdict and the victim was "elated." Defense attorney Leonard Levine said he was grateful jurors considered each count separately.
"I hope this brings some closure to the people involved," said Donald Steier, another of Wempe's attorneys.
When Wempe's name first surfaced in 2003 he was charged with 42 counts of child molestation and spent a year in jail awaiting trial. However, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the statute of limitations on those crimes and his case was dismissed along with that of many other priests.
Whether or not there is another trial, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is not through with its priest molestation scandal. More than 500 lawsuits have been filed claiming sexual abuse by priests.
"Father Michael Wempe's conviction cannot restore the trust and innocence stolen from his victims, but hopefully this verdict may provide them some measure of justice and comfort," the archdiocese said in a statement issued Wednesday.
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