Ex-Priest's Molestation Case Dropped: Inland: the State Wants Riverside County to Charge Him with Failing to Register As an Offender

By Michael Fisher
Press Enterprise [Riverside CA]
July 17, 2003

Authorities want Riverside County prosecutors to charge a Palm Springs man with failing to register as a sex offender after molestation charges were dropped against him in San Diego County this week.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision led prosecutors Tuesday to dismiss 41 sex-abuse charges against Harold C. Depp. The 72-year-old former Roman Catholic priest had denied charges he molested an 11-year-old Oceanside boy 30 years ago. Depp, who was arrested May 30 at his Palm Springs home, was convicted in 1982 of molestation in Alaska, California's Deputy Attorney General Peter Quon said by telephone.

Quon said he intends to hand over the case to Riverside County prosecutors with a suggestion they charge Depp with failing to register as a convicted sex offender until recently.

Officials at the Riverside County district attorney's office said Wednesday that they were unaware of the case.

Sloan Ostbye, a San Diego County deputy public defender who represented Depp, said her client registered after he was released on bail earlier this month. She declined to say why he had not registered earlier.

If convicted of failing to register, Depp could face up to 25 years behind bars under California's "three-strikes" law. His Alaska convictions could count as his first two strikes, Ostbye said.

"I would hope in the interest of justice, that will not happen," Ostbye said by phone. "Mr. Depp has been out for 14 years now without any allegations of impropriety or lewd conduct."

The Diocese of San Bernardino previously said it has no record of Depp ever working as a priest in Riverside or San Bernardino counties.

Ordained in 1959, Depp worked until 1963 in Detroit before he made "a sudden and unannounced departure from his last parish assignment," according to a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Depp was not accused of sexual misconduct while in Detroit, archdiocese spokesman Norm McGrath said by phone.

Depp began staying at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside in 1971. He was accused of molesting the Oceanside boy between 1971 and 1972, Quon said.

In 1982, Depp was arrested and convicted in Alaska on charges of oral copulation on a child, lewd conduct on a child and sodomy, Quon said.

Depp was released from prison in 1988 and returned to California. He moved to Palm Springs five years ago, Quon said.

His Oceanside accuser, now 43, reported his allegations to the Diocese of San Diego last year after he discovered Depp had returned to the state, Quon said.

"It took a lot of strength for this victim to come forward . . .

He only came forward because he was afraid Mr. Depp would be in touch with other children," Quon said.

Depp has not worked as a priest for years, Ostbye said.

Quon said he was forced to drop the case after the Supreme Court last month struck down a California law that had allowed authorities to prosecute old sex crimes after the statute of limitations had expired.


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