Jurors Find Man Guilty in Sex-Abuse Case at Defunct Church

Associated Press, carried in Journal Gazette
December 3, 2007

A jury late Monday convicted a man on three counts of aggravated rape of children for his role in the sex abuse case surrounding the now-closed Hosanna Church in Ponchatoula.

Austin Trey Bernard III, 39, of Hammond, was the first of seven members of the church to go on trial. He was accused of raping his daughter, who was 2 at the time, and a 12-year-old boy.

Jurors - eight women and four men - deliberated about two hours before delivering the verdict. District Judge Doug Hughes set sentencing for Jan. 16.

Since Wednesday, the jury has listened to witnesses for the state, at least six hours of taped interviews of children and Bernard's taped confessions to law enforcement authorities. They also read hundreds of pages of written confessions by Bernard and two children detailing the alleged abuse. The two young men, who are among the three children the state maintains were raped, also testified but recanted past statements of alleged abuse.

The prosecution maintained that Bernard had a sexual relationship with the father of the young men, now ages 17 and 21, Assistant District Attorney Don Wall said. During the course of that relationship, Bernard and the boys' father raped each other's children, Wall said. They also let other adults in the church rape their children, he said.

The defense maintained the accusations arose out of the dissolving marriages of the suspects.

Al Bensabat, an assistant public defender, said Bernard's ex-wife coached their daughter, now age 7, to accuse Bernard of abuse to ensure sole custody of the child.

District attorney Scott Perrilloux said he was pleased with the verdict. He said he next plans to bring Louis Lamonica, former pastor of the defunct church, to trial, although he could not give a specific date for that case to begin.


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