Court Forced to Reduce Probation of Former Tucson Priest

By Kim Smith
Arizona Daily Star
July 17, 2009

When the Rev. Gary E. Underwood was sentenced to prison last August for sexually abusing them, his three victims expected him to be released after 10 years and subjected to probation for life.

They were wrong.

The attorneys who worked out Underwood's plea agreement recently realized there was no such thing as lifetime probation back when Underwood committed his crimes.

On Friday, Pima County Superior Court Judge Richard Nichols had three options to rectify the situation. He could retroactively reject Underwood's plea agreement and force the case to go to trial. He could add another two years to Underwood's sentence or he could reduce his probationary term to three years.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer told Nichols she's explained the situation to the victims, who are now in their 30s. One of them wanted Nichols to add the extra prison time, the other two asked for three years probation, she said.

Nichols chose to reduce the lifetime probation to three years probation.

Last May, Underwood admitted he engaged in oral sex with two boys and committed other acts with a third, all while he was a priest in the Tucson area in the 1980s.

Underwood was indicted in December 2006 on 13 counts of sexual conduct with a minor under 15, but Mayer and defense attorney Daniel Cooper fashioned a plea agreement.

The priest pleaded guilty to six counts of sexual conduct with a minor. The plea agreement dismissed seven counts, amended the age of the victims to "under 18," and reduced his maximum possible sentence to 12 years. Had he gone to trial and been convicted, he was facing a life sentence because the victims were under 15.

When indicted, Underwood was serving as a chaplain at Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, La., but he later retired. In the local diocese, he was a priest at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church between 1980 and 1983; at St. Odilia's from 1983 to 1986 and at St. Anthony's in Casa Grande from 1986 to 1987. He then worked around the world as a military chaplain.

The Pima County Attorney's Office learned about Underwood from the diocese, which heard about accusations from a family member of one of the three victims.

As is the case with most defendants, Underwood only has to serve a percentage of his prison sentence. According to the Arizona Department of Corrections' Web site, the latest he can be released from prison is December 2015.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or


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