Henderson Sexual Abuse: Probation Affirmed for Ex-Priest Roberts

By Glenn Puit
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
August 28, 2003

Despite an intensive letter-writing campaign urging prison time for a former Henderson priest, a judge made clear Wednesday that he will not put Mark Roberts behind bars for sexually abusing boys.

District Judge Donald Mosley made his decision known Wednesday morning during a brief hearing for Roberts, who previously was sentenced to three years of probation for the attacks on five youths.

Roberts was before Mosley for resentencing Wednesday because the state of Missouri refused to house Roberts at a rehabilitation center there, prompting a second hearing.

Mosley said that as a result of the decision by Missouri officials, he wants Nevada authorities to find a new rehabilitation facility for Roberts.

'I'm going to look at alternatives,' Mosley said of rehabilitation centers other than the one in Missouri.

Debbie Tullgren, the mother of one of the victims, expressed disappointment that Mosley did not change his mind and send Roberts to prison.

'The judge had the discretion to change the sentence, and he didn't,' Tullgren said.

Jodi Tyson, who heads the Nevada Coalition Against Sexual Violence, called Mosley's decision 'unfortunate' considering that the coalition and other Las Vegans sent more than 100 letters to Mosley, urging prison time.

'He has a very clear intent to make sure this offender does not go to prison,' Tyson said.

Roberts, 52, was a priest at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church on Boulder Highway. He was suspended by the Diocese of Las Vegas in January 2002 when reports surfaced that he had abused the boys.

Roberts was accused of carrying out bizarre, sexually-themed rituals against the teens, who are now ages 17 to 20. 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 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. He faced a potential sentence ranging from probation to five years in jail.

Mosley sentenced Roberts to three years of probation. As part of that probation, Roberts was to spend his time at a Missouri rehabilitation facility known as Recon. The judge said if that ended up being impossible, he reserved the right to re-examine the sentence.

'We must have misinterpreted the statements that the judge reserved to right to resentence,' Tyson said.

After the sentence was levied, it was revealed by the Review-Journal that a Nevada Parole and Probation official originally had recommended five years in jail for Roberts. But administrators at the department overruled that recommendation and sent the judge a report recommending probation. A judge is not bound by the recommendations of a presentence report.

Missouri officials said a significant reason they rejected the transfer of Roberts' probation was because one of Roberts' victims now lives in Missouri.

Roberts now is living at an undisclosed location in the Las Vegas Valley while on house arrest.

Clark County prosecutor Doug Herndon said that to his knowledge, there is no rehabilitation center in Nevada suitable for Roberts' needs. The Missouri facility specializes in treating priests.

'I'm sure there are others in the nation similar to Recon,' Herndon said.


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