Schmitz Pleads Not Guilty to Charge
Ex-Priest Accused of Fondling Boy, 15

By Diane Carroll
Kansas City Star
November 1, 2002

SENECA, Kan. - Clad in a green- and white-striped jail jumpsuit, former Roman Catholic priest Dennis Schmitz pleaded not guilty Thursday to fondling a 15-year-old boy in Nemaha County.

The arraignment took just two minutes in Nemaha County District Court. Senior Judge Fred Jackson scheduled a trial for Jan. 22 and said pretrial motions would be heard on Dec. 13.

Two dozen spectators, who had waited 15 minutes or more for the arraignment to begin, shuffled into the hallway. A Catholic nun who recited the rosary during the wait said that she "of course" had been praying for Schmitz, who has been serving time in the Douglas County Jail for fondling the same boy in Douglas County.

Afterward, Schmitz's attorney, Stephen Mirakian, said a 32-month prison sentence imposed Oct. 18 in Douglas County had "not helped at all" in dealing with the Nemaha County case.

Mirakian said he had filed a motion in Douglas County District Court asking Judge Michael Malone to reconsider the sentence. The motion, filed last Friday, asks for a lesser sentence or for Schmitz to be released on bond pending appeal.

"When you make a deal with the prosecutor in Douglas County, you assume it will be upheld," Mirakian said. "I'm not suggesting she (the assistant prosecutor) didn't honor the deal, but I am suggesting the judge did a very surprising thing."

Schmitz, 41, was relieved of his duties as a priest in May after accusations surfaced from the boy, now 19. Schmitz was charged with one count of taking indecent liberties with a minor in Douglas County and one count of the same offense in Nemaha County.

Schmitz, who has served in several Johnson County parishes, pleaded guilty in September in Douglas County. In return for the plea, Assistant District Attorney Ruth Ritthaler agreed not to argue against a defense motion for probation.

Ritthaler said Thursday that Malone had no authority under the law to change his sentence, and that the judge had set no hearing date for the motion. Malone could not be reached.

In the motion, Mirakian argued that the sentence could still be revised because the "journal entry of judgment" imposing it had not been recorded.

Mirakian stated in the motion that he, Schmitz and the prosecutors in Douglas and Nemaha counties understood and expected that Schmitz would be sentenced to suspended sentences of 32 months in prison in Douglas County and 52 months in Nemaha County, to run concurrently.

Probation was to be granted in both counties, the motion said, and the Nemaha County sentence was expected to include 60 days of shock time in jail.

Nemaha County Attorney Brad Lippert said Thursday that he could not comment on any discussions regarding a plea agreement.

In the motion filed in Douglas County, Mirakian argued that the Kansas sentencing guidelines allowed probation for the offenses in question under certain conditions. Schmitz meets all the conditions, the motion states: He is a nonviolent first-time offender with good family support and he has a history of substantial community service.

The Rev. Roderic Giller, who attending the Thursday hearing, said he had spent 30 minutes visiting with Schmitz the night before. Giller is pastor of the Catholic Church in Seneca and said he had known the Schmitz family for many years.

When asked how Schmitz was doing, Giller replied: "He is contrite. He is humble. He hasn't lost his faith in God ... .

"The crushing part is the sentence, particularly for a first offense, particularly when he turned himself in, particularly when he was ready for treatment. Apparently he has received no consideration for doing all of these things."

The victim in the case also attended the hearing. He said he was not at liberty to comment.

Schmitz admitted to touching the boy inappropriately at Schmitz's Douglas County home in fall 1998. The Nemaha County offense allegedly occurred between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1, 1999, while the boy was at the S&S Ranch, which Schmitz co-owned.

Schmitz was taken to Seneca on Wednesday by deputies from the Nemaha County sheriff's office, Sheriff David Mee said. Schmitz was to be returned to the Douglas County Jail after the hearing Thursday, he said.


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