Priest Sentenced to Four Years for Sex Abuse

By Kathryn Rogers
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 1, 1992

A Roman Catholic priest was sentenced Friday to four years in prison for the sexual abuse of an 11-year-old altar boy after Mass at a House Springs church in October 1990. The Rev. Donald H. Heck, 57, sat quietly, slumped in his chair in a Jefferson County Circuit courtroom as Judge Dennis J. Kehm pronounced the sentence. That "a person in a particular position of trust took sexual advantage of a vulnerable child in a place of sanctuary and caused that child immeasurable injury is morally, culturally and legally reprehensible," Kehm said. Kehm said that he could not grant Heck's request for probation because to do so would be to take responsibility for Heck's future behavior. "Because of the nature of these acts and your attitude toward their commission, I would be taking a substantial risk with the emotional stability of other unwary children" if probation were granted, Kehm said. The judge said that because Heck had not admitted guilt in the case, rehabilitation efforts were likely to fail. The judge said he spared Heck the maximum five-year sentence because of pleas for mercy contained in letters to the court from Heck's friends and former parishioners, and because Heck - "whether you intended to or not" - had spared the victim the trauma of a trial in the case by agreeing to a plea bargain. Heck entered a so-called Alford plea on May 29 to the charge of sexual abuse in the first degree. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt but concedes that the state has enough evidence to win a conviction. Before sentencing, Heck's attorney, Martin Hadican, asked Kehm to consider Heck's age and alcoholism and said Heck was "a man of the cloth." "A young man has been violated . . . and we recognize that this is a travesty," Hadican said. He asked for a sentence "saturated with mercy and tinged with logic." Heck was led from the courtroom by deputies after the sentencing. The victim's mother, who was in the courtroom, declined to comment. But her attorney, Alan Zvibleman, said that while the family had not necessarily wanted Heck imprisoned, the family had wanted "to make sure that he was not in any position to ever harm another child. In that sense, they're pleased because we think it sent a message." Authorities say that the boy, now 13, was attacked by Heck in the sacristy at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in House Springs on Oct. 26, 1990. The boy was held down and fondled by Heck, authorities said. A few days later, Heck was removed from the parish and placed at St. Michael's Center in St. Louis County for treatment of what archdiocesan officials described as an unrelated problem, authorities said. At that point, the altar boy had not come forward with his allegation . The archdiocese became aware of the boy's allegation during Heck's treatment and reported it to the state's child abuse hot line, said the Rev. George Lucas, chancellor of the archdiocese. Heck later was assigned to St. Andrew Church in Lemay as associate pastor. Lucas said that Heck was evaluated for pedophilia after the archdiocese informed the treatment center about the altar boy's allegation. "They were kept informed along the way," Lucas said. "We tried to cooperate with the legal authorities and the people who were doing the evaluation. Everyone knew the information we received." Lucas said he had not seen the report of the evaluation of Heck but presumed it did not indicate Heck had a problem with pedophilia. Otherwise, Lucas said, Archbishop John L. May - who had seen the report - would not have allowed Heck to be reassigned to another parish. May, who is recovering from surgery for brain cancer, was not available for comment. Heck was arrested at St. Andrew in December, after his indictment by a Jefferson County grand jury. Zvibleman criticized the archdiocese for placing Heck at a parish after they knew of the sex abuse allegation against him. "We're disappointed they didn't put Heck in long-term treatment," he said. Detectives Marty Harris and William Dunn of the Jefferson County sheriff's department said in interviews earlier this week that their investigation indicated Heck had been placed in treatment by the archdiocese because of other allegations, one of which involved an attempted assault of a different boy in October 1990 at the House Springs church. Dunn said the boy's family did not want the case pursued. Harris also said Heck had been accused of slapping altar boys. Lucas said he was unaware of these other allegations against Heck. He said he had thought Heck was being treated "for stress."


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