Retired Margate Priest Freed on $70,000 Bond in Child-Rape Case

By Tonya Alanez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 21, 2006

A Broward judge agreed Monday to release on bond a retired priest accused of molesting, drugging and raping a boy from the time he was 7 until he was 14.

Neil Doherty, a former priest at St. Vincent's Catholic Church in Margate, was arrested in January and faces eight counts of sexual battery, lewd and lascivious acts and molestation. He was denied bail Jan. 27, a day after he was arrested at a Fort Lauderdale hotel.

Broward Circuit Judge Susan Lebow granted the $70,000 bond on the condition that Doherty, 63, surrenders his passport.

The priest's sisters, Mary Baylor and Joanne Veclotch of Palm Beach, said they would put up their property to secure the bond. Baylor agreed to let Doherty live with her.

Doherty sat alone in the jury box, his gray hair slicked back, wearing oversized glasses and a dark-blue jumpsuit.

He smiled when Baylor winked at him while Lebow outlined the conditions of his bail agreement, which prohibit him from contact with the victim or with children younger than 18, and from entering the city limits of Margate. He also must wear an electronic monitoring device.

Conviction on the sexual battery charges carries a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence and up to life. Defendants are entitled to pretrial release on reasonable conditions, except for capital or life felonies where proof of guilt is evident and presumption of guilt is great.

"The defendant is a major threat to the community, especially to young people," said prosecutor Dennis Siegel. "He has a lengthy history."

But Lebow ruled the state did not meet its burden and there was not adequate evidence to keep Doherty in jail.

Doherty also is accused in civil lawsuits of drugging and raping young boys in incidents dating to 1973. In one case, Broward prosecutors could not file criminal charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

The allegations of a Broward man, now 20, are at the heart of the current criminal case and span seven years, with the last incident in 1999, when he was 14.

According to the victim's statement, money would be surreptitiously placed in his pocket after each incident.

Defense attorney David Bogenschutz characterized the victim as a "violent young man," reliant on alcohol and marijuana and eventually sentenced to a juvenile facility.

Lead investigator Detective Eric Hendel of the Broward Sheriff's Office testified that an office manager at the Margate church gave sworn statement saying that after Doherty's 2002 resignation she found his handwritten journal in the rectory, detailing how he had drugged and sexually assaulted a child.

Bogenschutz said the office manager could not find the journal.

Tonya Alanez can be reached at or 954-356-4542.


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