Priest Says He Lied about Groping
Tells Jurors Police Coerced Confession in Sex Case

By Peter Pochna
The Record [Bergen County NJ]
April 11, 2003

The trial of a Wyckoff priest accused of groping a teenage boy took an unexpected and dramatic turn Thursday when he took the stand in his own defense.

During 90 minutes of riveting testimony before a packed Hackensack courtroom, the Rev. Michael Fugee said he was lying when he told police in March 2001 that he intentionally grabbed the boy's crotch.

"I am generally an honest person," the cleric told jurors. "I lied in this instance to say what was expected of me so then I could go home."

Speaking softly, sometimes pausing to gather himself, Fugee, 43, said he felt intimidated while being interrogated in a small room at Wyckoff police headquarters by three investigators who continued to press the issue even after he initially denied touching the boy.

Fugee, a former emergency medical technician, said the officers didn't threaten him or raise their voices during the two-hour interview. But he said they suggested repeatedly that maybe the groping happened so quickly that he was unaware of it.

"It became obvious to me that it wasn't going to end until I told them what they wanted to hear," Fugee testified.

He eventually told police that night that he was struggling with his sexual identity and "was infatuated with crotches," according to Detective John Haviland of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office.

The priest also told them that it excited him when he groped the boy over his pants during two playful wrestling sessions, according to a sworn statement documented by a stenographer.

On Thursday, Fugee insisted he never touched the boy sexually.

"There was no possible way in my mind to conceive of touching somebody in that manner," he said.

Passions were high in the Hackensack courtroom, where the stifling heat of a standing-room-only crowd occasionally prompted participants to wipe their brows. Superior Court Judge Charles Walsh twice urged quiet from members of the audience, most of whom were Fugee's supporters from St. Elizabeth R.C. Church. Fugee is free on $10,000 bail and remains on administrative leave from his post as assistant pastor.

He is charged with two third-degree sex crimes, each of which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison.

"Don't get distracted. This case is very simple," Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Demetra Maurice told the jury of seven men and seven women. "The defendant admitted he touched the boy with the purpose of sexually gratifying himself."

But defense lawyer Brian Neary urged the jury to "reject the so-called confession."

"They turned a wrestling match into something criminal," he said.

The case was handed over to the jurors Thursday afternoon after three days of testimony. They were expected to reach a verdict today.


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