The trial for a Pewaukee priest accused of sexually assaulting a teen parishioner ends in mistrial
By Steven Martinez
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 13, 2020
After nearly a week of testimony, a Waukesha County Circuit judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a Pewaukee priest accused of sexually assaulting a teen parishioner in a confessional.
The decision Friday from Judge Michael Maxwell comes shortly after the alleged victim's mother's attempts to gain legal status to stay in the U.S. became public.
Defense attorneys Jerome Buting and Kathleen Byrne Stilling of Buting, Williams and Stilling S.C. successfully argued that the "late disclosure" of that information fundamentally shifted the defense strategy for their client, the Rev. Charles Hanel — and would have had they known about it from the start.
Hanel is accused of second-degree sexual assault for allegedly groping a then-13-year-old girl as she spoke to him in December 2017 inside a confessional at Queen of Apostles Church in the city of Pewaukee.
His trial began Monday. He is scheduled to return to court for a status hearing on April 22.
Following Maxwell's ruling, District Attorney Sue Opper said she did not have any information available about whether prosecutors would seek a second trial.
Until the undocumented status of the alleged victim's mother came up, Buting had defended Hanel as an unimpeachable man of the church with a long and unblemished record of serving in several parishes.
In the wake of the disclosure, Hanel's attorneys argued that the alleged victim likely fabricated the accusation to help her mother gain legal immigration status.
The victim's mother has a history of illegal entry and re-entry into the U.S., Buting said, citing discovery material in the case. As a result, all the usual paths to citizenship for her were barred.
"Except for one way," Buting said. "If she was the parent of a child who was the victim of a sexual assault."
Assistant District Attorney Michael Thurston waved off challenges to the woman's credibility, saying immigration was not the issue at hand. He also argued that disclosure of her undocumented status gave more weight to her testimony because she was risking deportation by exposing that fact.
Both the alleged victim and her mother testified in the case.
Prosecutors filed the sexual assault charge against Hanel in September 2018. The girl first reported the incident in April of that year as Hanel was preparing to return to Queen of Apostles, N35 W23360 Capitol Drive, following a sabbatical.
Hanel has been on administrative leave from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since the investigation into the girl's allegation began.