Sexual Abuse Case: Convicted Priest's Probation Hits Snag

By Glenn Puit and J.M. Kalil
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
August 8, 2003

A former Henderson priest who sexually abused boys could be headed back to a Clark County courtroom after Missouri officials announced Thursday that he cannot serve his probation in their state.

Mark Roberts will be prevented from completing his court-ordered probation in Missouri, officials said, because one of his five victims now lives there.

'Mr. Roberts will not be coming to live in Missouri,' said Tim Kniest, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

Clark County prosecutor Lisa Luzaich, when informed of the decision late Thursday, said the decision could prompt District Judge Donald Mosley to revisit his sentence.

She also said nothing prevents Mosley from giving Roberts a harsher sentence, such as prison time.

'Theoretically, he could get more,' Luzaich said. 'It's all up to the judge.'

Roberts' attorney, George Foley Sr., could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Thursday's announcement was a remarkable about-face for Missouri public safety officials, who previously had said Roberts could complete his three years of probation at a Missouri treatment facility known as Recon. The Associated Press has reported that the treatment center is a facility for priests in the Jefferson County community of Dittmer.

The facility is one county away from the new home of one of Roberts' victims, who is now 20 years old.

Kniest said the chairman of Missouri's Board of Parole and Probation reversed the decision to accept Roberts because of the victim's proximity to Roberts. The reversal also comes after intense protests from a group for victims of church abuse.

Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which conducted an intensive phone protest campaign earlier this week, praised the decision.

'Had this transfer taken place, this 20-year-old kid would've lived only 10 miles away from his perpetrator,' said David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based group known as SNAP.

'Imagine being this boy. You would have to worry every time you go into a video store or a grocery store, 'Are you going to see the man who physically and sexually abused you?' This decision gives this hurting young man some peace of mind.'

Debbie Tullgren, a mother of one of the victims, commended Missouri officials Thursday night.

'This gives us a window of opportunity to revisit his sentencing,' Tullgren said.

The allegations against Roberts, 52, 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 a 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 strange sexual rituals at the hands of Roberts. All of the victims are now between 17 and 20 years old.

One victim said Roberts told him to strip down to his underwear and 'get on the cross,' according to court records. The boy stood in a doorway with his arms extended as if he were on a crucifix. Roberts then 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. During a May hearing, Roberts was sentenced to probation.

Of the judge's sentence, Luzaich said Thursday:

'He reserved the right to resentence if his intentions were not met. He was very clear that his intent was to have Mark Roberts in that type of facility.'

Last week, the Review-Journal confirmed that a Nevada Parole and Probation official who first reviewed Roberts' case recommended that Roberts serve five years in the Clark County Detention Center for his crimes.

But the recommendation of Carolyn Butts was amended by her supervisors, who felt Roberts was deserving of a chance at probation.

Butts refused to sign the recommendation for probation, which was the only recommendation sent to the judge.

Mosley also ordered that Roberts cannot be a priest while on probation and that he must stay away from children.

'In light of the original recommendation of five years in jail, hopefully we can revisit it,' Tullgren said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.