Priest Held on $5 Million Bail Is No Flight Risk, His Defense Attorney Says

By Andy Furillo
Sacramento Bee
December 20, 2011

The Rev. Uriel Ojeda, center, listens as lawyer Jesse Ortiz speaks for him at a previous appearance in Sacramento Superior Court on Dec. 6. On Monday a judge reset a bail-review motion for Jan. 5.

An unspoken fear that the Rev. Uriel Ojeda will take off for Mexico if he gets out of jail is the big reason the priest, accused of child molestation, is stuck with a $5 million bail, his lawyer said Monday.Defense attorney Jesse Ortiz did not disclose where he thinks the concern about Ojeda's flight risk is coming from, but he told reporters he has subpoenaed the accused priest's personnel records from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. Ortiz said Ojeda, who is accused of seven counts of molesting a girl under age 14, is not a flight risk. He said he needs the 32-year-old priest's records to demonstrate it in court on a bail-review motion, so he asked a judge on Monday to delay a hearing on the issue until he gets the records in hand. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Marjorie Koller granted Ortiz's request and reset Ojeda's bail-review motion for Jan. 5."The issue is if he's a flight risk, and the documents will show that he's not," Ortiz said.Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the diocese, said he does not know where the information is coming from that suggests Ojeda is a flight risk."Our goal is to cooperate with law enforcement," Eckery said. "The question hasn't come up. This is the first time it's come up."

A few dozen people showed up at court Monday to support Ojeda, who had served as a priest for five years in Woodland and Redding before his arrest Nov. 30. The crowd was somewhat smaller than the gathering at his last court hearing, on Dec. 6.

Ojeda's supporters demonstrated briefly outside the downtown jail, where they passed out fliers saying, "We know evil has many disguises and will use any means possible to attack US."

The flier said the "handling of this situation has made EACH AND EVERY PRIEST vulnerable" to molestation accusations.

"Protect our priests," said the flier. It included a web address created on behalf of Ojeda.

He is accused in a seven-count complaint of molesting one victim between June 29, 2007, and Aug. 30, 2009, with each incident taking place before the girl reached the age of 14.

Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham declined to comment as she walked past the demonstration.

The priest's lawyer said it was not the DA who raised the concern about Ojeda skipping across the border. "Whatever information was given to the Police Department when he was arrested gave rise to this concern that he was a flight risk," Ortiz said. "What that is, I have no idea."

At least three priests from the Sacramento area have run to Mexico rather than deal with child-molestation allegations against them. One of them, the Rev. Jose Luis Urbina, had been convicted. Another, the Rev. Gerardo Beltran, disappeared in the midst of an investigation. The third priest who fled has been identified as Francisco Javier Garcia.

Ortiz said his client was born in the United States and that his parents live in the Los Angeles area.

As for Mexico, "other than going there on vacation with some other priests once a year for about a week, he really has no contacts down there," Ortiz said of Ojeda.

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