Jury Finds Hoefgen Not Guilty in Sex Abuse Case
By David Unze
St. Cloud Times
May 26, 2015
A Dakota County jury on Tuesday evening found Fran Hoefgen not guilty of accusations that he raped an altar boy more than 20 years ago at a Hastings church where he was a priest.
Hoefgen broke down and sobbed with friends and family after the verdicts were read. He left the courthouse without commenting.
The 36-year-old Red Wing man who accused Hoefgen of abuse from 1989 to 1992 hung his head in his hands after the verdicts were read. He left the courtroom before the hearing concluded.
Hoefgen was charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning the verdicts.
After the verdicts were read, Hoefgen's attorney, Michael Colich, said the charges and trial have weighed heavily on Hoefgen.
"It's been 18 months of hell, frankly," he said.
He said Hoefgen was facing at least eight years in prison, and prosecutors had filed a motion to seek a sentence longer than that. Colich also reiterated what he had told jurors earlier in the day.
"I said to this jury over and over again that there was no investigation," Colich said.
"Proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred 24-26 years ago without significant corroborating physical evidence of the crime itself is always a difficult task," said Dakota County Attorney James BackstromCQ. "Without such corroborating evidence, the jury must render its decision based primarily upon one person's word against that of another."
He said he was grateful "for the courage shown by the individual who came forward to share his story of the sexual abuse he said was inflicted upon him many years ago."
During his closing argument, Colich called the prosecution's case against Hoefgen "a disgrace." He said police and prosecutors assumed the altar boy's story was true and did no investigation to find evidence to support the story. In fact, the only evidence presented to the jury, Colich said, was by Hoefgen's defense and it showed that key points of the victim's testimony are wrong.
"How can you convict someone when there's no evidence besides (the victim) telling us it happened," Colich told jurors during closing arguments.
Hoefgen, 64, was accused of abusing the former altar boy when Hoefgen was associate pastor at St. Boniface Church in Hastings. Hoefgen is a former St. John's Abbey monk and priest who also served at St. Boniface in Cold Spring.
Hoefgen testified during the trial, repeatedly denying that he abused the boy. He told jurors he didn't even remember the boy's name.
That man, whom the Times isn't naming because he's an alleged victim of sexual abuse, told jurors that Hoefgen raped him numerous times in a room behind the altar at the church, which has since been torn down.
The abuse happened when the boy was in the fourth through sixth grades and ended when Hoefgen left the parish in 1992, the man testified. He said he didn't tell anyone until 2013.
Colich's defense of Hoefgen included a vigorous attack on Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who specializes in suing religious orders and priests.
The former altar boy first went to Anderson to report he had been abused by Hoefgen after seeing a news report that another victim had won a sizable settlement in an unrelated case against the Catholic Church.
An associate of Anderson's, Patrick Wall, accompanied the man a few days later to the Hastings Police Department to file a report against Hoefgen. Wall, a former St. John's Abbey monk, answered several questions from investigators and provided information from his time serving at the Hastings parish.
"That's how this case got here," Colich told jurors.
Colich outlined the things he said investigators didn't do: No classmates of the altar boy testified. Neither did any school administrators, teachers or family members. The prosecution didn't prove that the altar boy attended the parish school or that he served as an altar boy, Colich said.
"Should they at least have challenged what (the altar boy) said to them?" Colich said. "Absolutely. Why didn't they? Because they just accepted what he told them."
Colich challenged jurors to return a verdict as if they didn't know who the defendant was or what his profession was, saying media and the public too quickly assume guilt when a Catholic priest is accused of sexual misconduct.
Prosecutor Paul Beaumaster told jurors that Hoefgen violated "the trust and the body" of the altar boy. His story is believable, and it took courage to come forward and tell, Beaumaster told the jury.
"For years he kept his secret, and he finally has come forward," Beaumaster said.
He also pointed out Hoefgen's trial testimony that was contradicted by prosecution rebuttal witnesses about how much contact Hoefgen had with some witnesses. Hoefgen testified that he didn't have contact with two witnesses who later said they had talked to Hoefgen since he was charged.
Hoefgen was laicized from the priesthood in December 2011. That is a process in which a cleric is made a layperson.
Hoefgen had been placed on restriction by St. John's Abbey in 2002 after it received credible allegations against him of sexual misconduct.
He was a St. John's Abbey monk assigned as priest to the St. Boniface parish in Cold Spring when, in 1983, he sexually abused a 17-year-old boy who was living with him temporarily at the parish residence.
Hoefgen was interviewed by police and admitted the abuse. Within days of being interviewed by police Hoefgen was sent by the abbey to St. Luke Institute in Maryland, where he spent six months for evaluation and treatment.
He never was charged in Stearns County related to that abuse.