Report Proposing Jail Time in Priest Case Was Amended

By Glenn Puit
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
July 31, 2003

A state Department of Parole and Probation employee initially recommended that a Henderson priest serve five years for sexually abusing five teenage boys, a top state official confirmed Wednesday.

But supervisors disagreed with the recommendation that pre-sentence report specialist Carolyn Butts made earlier this year.

So they amended the report to recommend that a judge sentence the Rev. Mark Roberts to three years' probation.

As is customary, this final version of the report was the only version sent to District Judge Donald Mosley, who in May sentenced Roberts to three years' probation.

A mother of one of Roberts' victims expressed outrage Wednesday that prison time was not recommended for Roberts.

'I'm very disappointed that the original decision, which seemed fit and due, was changed for some unknown reason,' Debbie Tullgren said. 'I sure would like to know why.'

Amy Wright, who heads the Department of Parole and Probation, said she personally reviewed the report before it was sent to Mosley.

She said confidentiality rules prevented her from discussing specifics of the report, which was obtained by the Review-Journal.

But she confirmed the account of a source who said the department decided to recommend probation after an employee initially recommended Roberts serve five years.

'That is what happened,' Wright said.

The department each year drafts hundreds of pre-sentence reports that provide judges with such information as the background of the defendant and the impact of the crime on victims. The reports also include a recommended sentence, which judges are free to disregard.

A source told the Review-Journal that Butts refused to sign the final recommendation contained in the pre-sentence report.

That report bears the name and title of Butts, but not her signature. Butts declined comment.

Wright said it is not unusual for parole and probation employees to disagree with their colleagues on individual cases.

'The recommendation is a division recommendation,' Wright said. 'It is not an individual person's recommendation.'

The allegations against Roberts, 52, first surfaced in February 2002 while Roberts was a priest at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Boulder Highway.

One month earlier, the Diocese of Las Vegas had suspended Roberts, who in the pre-sentence report attributed his crimes to a 'sexualized rage that ate at him from the time of his school days.'

According to authorities, at least five boys alleged they were subjected to bizarre, sexually themed rituals at the hands of Roberts. The five now range in age from 17 to 20 years old.

According to court records, one victim said Roberts told him to strip down to his underwear and 'get on the cross.' The boy stood in a doorway with his arms extended as if he were on a crucifix.

Roberts drew a knife across the boy's chest, leaving abrasions. He also slapped the youth, pulled his hair, called him names and yelled at him.

Other victims reported being subjected to oil massages by Roberts; having their buttocks touched; being punched in the face by Roberts while mimicking crucifixion; and being slapped or hit while naked.

In January, Roberts pleaded guilty to one count of open and gross lewdness and four counts of child abuse and neglect.

Following the plea, Roberts faced a potential sentence ranging from probation to five years in jail.

Before he was sentenced, the Department of Parole and Probation interviewed Roberts and also his victims.

Statements included in the pre-sentence report obtained by the Review-Journal indicate the victims were traumatized by the incidents.

'I miss God,' said one victim who said he had lost faith in the church.

Roberts told Butts he was verbally abused by his alcoholic father but he had a good relationship with his mother.

'The defendant also advised that on one occasion when he was in the sixth grade, he was sexually molested in the locker room by other boys his age,' the report states.

Roberts told Butts he regretted his actions.

'He stated that he committed (the crimes) in order to act out his self-hatred, which he described as a sexualized rage that ate at him from the time of his school days,' the report states.

'Mr. Roberts further stated that he took the victims' trust in the church from them,' the report states. 'He advised that the commission of the instant offenses destroyed his career. He believes that the greatest penalty he could ever face is to voluntarily give up the priesthood.'

Tullgren said more than two months after her son's offender was sentenced, she still cannot believe Roberts is not in jail.

'Recently a school teacher sexually molested a student and that individual was sent to jail,' she said. 'I don't understand why he (Roberts) isn't serving any jail time.'

'He wore a white collar, he was treated differently,' she said. 'A molester of any type should be treated the same.'

While on probation, Roberts will be housed in a treatment facility in Missouri, where the $2,300-a-month cost will be picked up by the Diocese of Las Vegas. He cannot be a priest while on probation, and must stay away from children.

Roberts' attorney, George Foley Sr., declined comment.

Clark County prosecutor Doug Herndon could not be reached for comment.


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