DA Drops Charges against Ex-Priest; Lack of Evidence Cited

By Tom Sanchez
Albuquerque Journal
February 21, 1995

Bernalillo — A charge of child sexual abuse has been dropped against a former Los Lunas parish priest for lack of evidence, 13th Judicial District Attorney Mike Runnels said Tuesday.

The Rev. John Esquibel, formerly a priest at San Clementa Parish, had been accused of raping a 15-year-old altar boy in 1983.

A Valencia County grand jury indicted Esquibel, 55, in October 1993 on a single count of first-degree criminal sexual penetration.

"On this indictment, the charge against Father Esquibel has been dropped," Runnels said.

"On review of our position and the unavailability of witnesses for the state, we believe that proving an essential element of the case — great bodily harm or great mental anguish — might not be possible," Runnels said. " We did not feel, ethically or legally, that we could proceed with the prosecution where we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that essential element of the case."

The indictment alleged that on or between March 1 and April 30, 1983, the priest caused a minor to engage in sexual intercourse by force or coercion, resulting in great bodily harm or great mental anguish.

Two weeks ago, Esquibel was granted a motion for a psychological examination of his accuser to determine the mental anguish the witness claims he suffered as a result of the alleged rape.

"There were several psychologists involved in this case," Runnels said. " Part of the problem with psychological testimony is that it is sometimes contradictory and, almost always, confusing and hardly ever precise."

Esquibel's attorney, Paul Kennedy, said the priest was "gratified."

"The DA did the right thing. They pretty much had to (drop the charge) because they've been lied to by the accuser," Kennedy said. "We still have the civil litigation to go through now."

Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Santa Fe suspended Esquibel from any ministry or parish work because of the allegation.

Kennedy said he didn't know if Esquibel would be reinstated by the archdiocese.

"I don't have any information on that at all," Kennedy said. "I just don't know what his personal plans are at this point."

No one could be reached at the Archdiocese of Santa Fe for comment Monday.

Runnels said the decision to drop the charge was difficult.

"First of all, we didn't take this case lightly. And we don't take dropping charges lightly, either," Runnels said. "We feel we have acted in good faith all along and regret the fact that we can not proceed with prosecution."

The District Attorney's Office doesn't have any new evidence in the case, Runnels said.

"Nor do we have reason now to look at new evidence, but if it comes to us we will, of course, consider it," he said.


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