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Priest Enters Guilty Plea In Child Molestation Case

Sep 5, 2002 | Topeka Capital-Journal

A former priest whose attorney called him "a very, very good person" who did a "bad thing" repeatedly pleaded guilty Thursday in Douglas County District Court to sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in the fall of 1998.

Dressed in street clothes, Dennis Edward Schmitz, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of indecent liberties with a child between 14 and 16 years old, the felony offense with which he was charged. Schmitz is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 18.

At the beginning of the hearing Thursday, Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone asked Schmitz whether it was appropriate to address him as "Father Schmitz" or "Mister Schmitz." His defense attorney, Steve Mirakian, answered, "Your honor, I don't know if the resignation from the priesthood has taken place."

Mirakian suggested the judge should call him "Mister Schmitz." When asked what Schmitz's plea would be, Mirakian said Schmitz pleaded guilty.

Malone explained a detailed series of legal rights Schmitz could use if he didn't plead guilty Thursday to the sexual assault charge as well as the potential prison sentence he could receive.

Each time Malone would say to Schmitz, "Knowing this, do you still plead guilty to the charge?"

Eleven times Schmitz answered he wanted to plead guilty.

Schmitz, who has no criminal history, Mirakian said, will ask the judge to be placed on probation. Assistant District Attorney Ruth Ritthaler will ask Malone to sentence Schmitz to 2 years and 8 months. The range for sentencing is 2 years and 7 months to 2 years and 10 months. As part of the plea agreement between Schmitz and the Douglas County District Attorney's office, Ritthaler won't take a position at the time of sentencing on the probation request by Schmitz.

Malone asked Schmitz what he had done.

Schmitz said, "He (the victim) came to spend the night at the residence where I was living. We were sharing the same bed and my hand inappropriately touched him" causing the youth to become aroused.

On questioning from Malone, Schmitz said he intentionally touched the boy to arouse the youth and himself.

The case in Nemaha County in which Schmitz is charged with sexually assaulting the same youth is pending and will remain so at least until he is sentenced Oct. 18 in Douglas County. Mirakian said he didn't know whether Schmitz would plead guilty to the Nemaha County charge. The Nemaha County assault occurred about six months after the Douglas County assault in fall 1998.

"This is a case where a very, very good person, a good man and a good priest did a bad thing," Mirakian said outside the courtroom. Mirakian said he wouldn't characterize Schmitz as a pedophile, saying Schmitz is amenable to counseling, and the likelihood that he would re-offend is "very, very small."

Mirakian said Schmitz deserves to be placed on probation, adding that Schmitz had done a great deal of good as a priest including helping the boy's family when the family needed it.

Schmitz, who "loved the priesthood," came forward to church officials to report the sexual abuse because "his conscience was tortured by what he had done," Mirakian said.

Besides Mirakian, the Rev. Gary Applegate, a priest and lawyer who represents Schmitz in church issues in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, also sat at the defense table with Schmitz. At least two other priests were in the courtroom during the proceedings.

Schmitz will remain free on the $15,000 cash or surety until sentencing. After making the plea, Schmitz walked with his attorneys to the nearby court services office to schedule an interview for a presentence report which provides information to the judge and attorneys before he is sentenced.

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