Priest Given 19-Year, 8-Month Sentence for Sex Offenses

Associated Press
February 27, 1984

A priest was sentenced to 19 years and eight months in prison Monday after being convicted of six sex offenses and one count of kidnapping involving Vietnamese youngsters.

The Rev. Lawrence Gerrard Smith, 36, received the toughest sentence permissible from Alameda County Superior Court Judge Richard Bartalini, despite pleas for leniency from other clergymen and praise for Smith from Vietnamese immigrants aided by him.

Prosecutors had urged that Smith be given the maximum sentence, noting that Smith, a priest in the Old Catholic sect, chose young victims who did not know their rights.

"There was a high degree of cruelty and viciousness in these crimes," Bartalini said in handing down the sentence.

"The victims were extremely vulnerable, not only because of their age (9-11), but because they didn't know English and (because) these crimes were committed while the defendant occupied a position of leadership, trust and confidence," the judge added.

Bartalini also noted the Berkeley priest's 1977 conviction on a sex offense with a 10-year-old boy.

"There was a great deal of sophistication and planning in relation to these crimes," said Deputy District Attorney Kathy Bergland.

"The defendant purposely picked people he thought did not know that what he was doing to them was illegal and ... he used his position as a priest ... and, further, his ability to help needy families in order to procure a steady stream of sexual partners," she said.

Prosecutors filed the kidnapping count after the priest allegedly put a 9-year-old boy on a plane to Georgia to keep him from testifying at his trial.

Although he admitted oral sex acts with at least two consenting adults, Smith consistently denied molesting the children.

Defense attorney L.L. Wagner called nearly a dozen witness to testify on Smith's behalf. They included officials from the priest's century-old sect who worked with Smith at St. Procopius Church in Berkeley.

A number of Vietnamese men testified Smith did a lot of good in the community by providing immigrants with the food, clothing and shelter they needed.


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