Accused Las Vegas Priest Agrees to Plea Deal

September 20, 2007

A Las Vegas priest accused of beating a church employee may not spend much more time in prison. Father George Chaanine has agreed to a plea deal Thursday in the assault of singer Michaelina Bellamy.

Chaanine vanished back in February after a church employee accused him of attacking her with a wine bottle and sexually assaulting her.

Father George Chaanine's mug shot

He was eventually captured after more than a week on the run outside of Phoenix.

Father George Chaanine admitted to battery with a deadly weapon, but by accepting guilt, prosecutors will drop sexual assault and kidnapping charges. Depending on how a judge rules, Chaanine may get time served.

Chaanine could face a range of time, however. The judge could say the eight months he has already spent in prison are enough, or the judge could put Chaanine away for as much as 15 years.

One of the priest's lawyers, Jeff Banks, says Chaanine understands the situation and has had a number of visitors over the last few months. Banks paints him as a man who wishes to change.

"I mean he's done the better part of a year already. And that is a substantial and life altering amount of time," said Banks. He also said that Chaanine will face no punishment in Nevada for the fugitive run.

You might remember Chaanine's drive from Las Vegas to the coast of California and then to the Arizona desert. It could factor into the judge's decision, however.

Michaelina Bellamy's representative did not return calls for comment.

Chaanine will be sentenced in early November.

Below is statement released from the Diocese of Las Vegas:

"The Diocese of Las Vegas was informed today that Father George Chaanine has accepted a plea agreement from the District Attorney's office. The Most Reverend Joseph A. Pepe, Bishop of the Diocese, said today that they respect the workings of the justice system and Father Chaanine's decision.

"It goes without saying that we are saddened that this incident ever took place and our thoughts and prayers have and continue to be with everyone who has been affected by this. It has been a trying time for the parish of Our Lady, but I am extremely proud and inspired by the way they have pulled together as a community and I pray that this unity and strength from adversity will continue as we move forward," said Bishop Pepe."


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