Update: Jury Hears Opening Statements in Priest Sexual Assault Case
January 6, 2020
ORD, Neb. — A woman confronts the man many trust as a spiritual adviser, a man she accuses of sexual assault.
Now a Catholic priest defends himself as he faces a felony trial in Valley County.
Father John Kakkuzhiyil is accused of violating the trust others placed in him, while his attorney paints a picture of two adults who made a mistake that became regret.
"I had no intention of taking advantage of you my dear," Kakkuzhiyil is heard on a recording made by Sheriff Casey Hurlburt, as he listened to his accuser call the priests.
In her words, "You took a vow of chastity, you're supposed to be a safe haven for people.
In another point in their conversation recorded by the sheriff, the woman said Kakkuzhiyil took advantage of her.
"You were naked on top of me," she said.
"We did not have intercourse," Kakkuzhiyil responded.
The woman claims she awoke in the priest's bedroom, with him performing oral sex, to her objection.
"This is not okay," is how prosecutor Gail VerMaas spoke for the alleged victim.
The nature of their relationship is up for debate, and will play out before a judge and jury this week.
The recorded phone call is how the first day of the trial against Rev. Kakkuzhiyil ended.
It started with jury selection, trying to find 14 people (12 plus two alternates) who can put aside what they've heard about the case.
VerMaas said the woman had a professional relationship, and had gone to Kakkuzhiyil's home to interview him for a project she was working on.
Defense attorney Mark Porto said there's more context to the night, than people have heard. He said the woman had bonded with the priest during a mission trip to Haiti the week before, and said she was going through a breakup with her boyfriend.
Porto said she cheated on her boyfriend with a priest, a decision she came to regret.
During jury selection, Kakkuzhiyil's attorney told jurors they may feel the need to punish a priest for sexual abuse scandals in the church, or because of the "me too" movement, but told them to listen to the evidence.
Also the defense stressed violations of Catholic teaching are not the same as violations of law.
4:15 p.m. Update: Court has adjourned for the day and will continue Tuesday morning.
3:50 p.m. Update: Both the prosecution and defense made opening statements after the jury was selected. Prosecutors said John Kakkuzhiyil, along with the alleged victim and others, went on a trip to Haiti the week before the rape was reported. They said when they returned, she woke up naked with Kakkuzhiyil sexually assaulting her in his home.
The defense says the incident was a drunken mistake, but said nothing illegal happened.
3:15 p.m. Update: A jury has been selected, and jurors are receiving their instructions from the judge.
Original: Jury selection began Monday in Valley County District Court as the trial of an Ord priest got underway.
John Kakkuzhiyil is charged with forcible sexual assault, according to court records.
They say an Ord woman claims the priest poured her a drink that caused her to black out and she woke up to find Kakkuzhiyil assaulting her.
A jury of 12 and two alternates will be picked out of a pool of 75.
Many in that pool admitted they knew either Kakkuzhiyil or the alleged victim.
Opening statements could begin as early as Monday afternoon.
Check back for updates on this developing story from NTV's Steve White.