Federico Fernandez

United Press International
January 13, 1989

Outraged over the dismissal of child-molesting charges against a former San Antonio priest, state Rep. Jerry Beauchamp has filed a bill prohibiting crime victims who receive civil-suit settlements from refusing to testify in criminal trials.

"State laws need to be changed so the guilty offender will not be able to buy off the victim and go free," the San Antonio legislator said Thursday.

But an attorney for the priest's alleged victims denied that their refusal to testify was related to their civil settlement with the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Franciscan Order, and said that in any case the proposed law would not have applied because the victims never testified in the civil suit.

Beauchamp said his action was prompted by the dismissal last September of indecency-with-a-child charges against Federico Fernandez, 40, a priest accused of molesting two boys in one of his parish families. District Judge Susan Reed dismissed the charges at the request of the Bexar County district attorney's office after she refused to approve a plea-bargain giving Fernandez 10 years' probation.

Prosecutors said they had to settle for probation because the boys' parents did not want them to testify, and without that testimony the case against Fernandez could not have been proven.

The family's decision against testifying came only days after they settled a civil suit against the archdiocese, which they accused of trying to cover up the incident. The settlement, reached in another court, was sealed, but reportedly was for more than $1 million.

"People can draw their own conclusions," Reed said Thursday of the family's motives in refusing to testify. "That's something you want to prohibit."

Jackson Speed, who represented the family in the civil suit, said Thursday that the parents were only following a psychologist's advice and trying to spare their sons, ages 10 and 16, the emotional trauma of a public trial. But Beauchamp expressed skepticism at that claim, and said people charged with crimes should not go free simply because their alleged victims receive a generous settlement.


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