SAGINAW, MI – The Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr. was ordered to serve a minimum of two years in prison in connection with the sexual assault of a teen.
Saginaw Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson handed down the sentence Thursday, April 25 on the charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct that carries a possible sentence of 15 years in prison.
DeLand, 72, who is suspended from his longtime job as a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, pleaded no contest in March to three charges – second-degree criminal sexual conduct, gross indecency between two males, and manufacturing or distributing an imitation controlled substance.
Saginaw Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover read a statement in court Thursday from the victim in the case.
“I would like to make it known what that man has done to me will define my life forever,” Hoover read.
While dealing with the loss of a friend by suicide, “This man of God told me I wasn’t OK, no matter how much I told him I was strong,” Hoover continued.
The teen testified in a prior court hearing that DeLand gave him cigarette packs and $100 to acquire ecstasy.
He was 17 years old at the time he visited DeLand’s Saginaw Township condo in February 2018, equipped with a recording device provided by police.
That’s when DeLand massaged the teen’s feet, chest, and back and put his hand on the teen’s buttocks for a minute or two, the teen testified.
DeLand’s first trial ended March 21 after being found not guilty of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct involving another teen.
He briefly addressed the court on Thursday, stating, “I’m very sorry the community has gone through all of this.”
DeLand also was accused by a man who was age 21 at the time of getting him intoxicated at DeLand’s condominium and sexually assaulting him. That man was to testify in a third trial DeLand faced until the trial was canceled by the no contest plea.
Saginaw Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson told the courtroom while there is little doubt DeLand engaged in some criminal behaviors, he had to judge the sentencing based on that of any other person in the community.
“Some will say it’s too harsh, while others will say it’s too lenient,” said Jackson. “My duty is to adhere to the duty I take to uphold the law.”
DeLand was also sentenced to five years’ probation that will run concurrent with the prison sentence and must register as a sex offender.
Teen accuser ‘almost speechless’ after Rev. Robert DeLand’s not guilty verdict
Posted: Thu 11:55 PM, Mar 21, 2019
Updated: Fri 1:06 AM, Mar 22, 2019
By Amy Hybels |
FREELAND (WJRT) (03/21/2019) – One of two teenage boys who testified against suspended Saginaw priest Robert DeLand was shocked by the not guilty verdict handed down Thursday.
“I think that was probably one of the most devastating moments of my life,” said the teen, whose identity is being concealed.
DeLand was on trial this week — the first of three scheduled against him — for charges that he sexually assaulted one teen and attempted to sexually assault another. Both alleged victims were 17 when the alleged acts took place in 2017.
Testimony in the trial started Wednesday afternoon and wrapped up Thursday morning.
During testimony, DeLand denied he inappropriately touched a Freeland High School student in November of 2017. He also denied trying to touch a second teen during a memorial service in May of 2017.
The jury reached its not guilty verdict Thursday afternoon, allowing DeLand to remain free on bond while awaiting the other two trials.
That came as a surprise to the alleged victim, who is now 19.
“I thought there was no way this guy’s going to get off, and he did,” he said. “I’m almost speechless when I think about it.”
He said DeLand attempted to touch his groin area under the guise of a handshake during a memorial service for a fellow student at St. Agnes Parish in Freeland in May of 2017. DeLand denied the teen’s account.
The teen is hopeful for a guilty verdict in the two upcoming trials.
“I’m mainly just praying that they got him on something and he goes to jail for the rest of his life,” he said.
His father, who also testified in DeLand’s trial, said he hopes Thursday’s outcome doesn’t dissuade others from speaking out:
“I just hope that even though kids have seen this, they still come forward, because this cannot keep going on with children. It has to stop,” the teen’s father said.
At least one of the two upcoming trials will include allegations involving a third young man, who was 21 at the time of the alleged inappropriate sexual contact.
DeLand has been suspended from public ministry and presenting himself as a Catholic priest since the allegations came to light in February 2018.
The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw and Apostolic Administrator Walter Hurley released a Thursday about the verdict:
“The not guilty decision regarding Rev. Robert DeLand by the jury today brings to resolution one part of a long and difficult process for all involved. My hope, that as the criminal court process continues to evolve, a sense of peace and healing for all will be the final result.”
Jury acquits Catholic priest Robert DeLand of sexually assaulting 2 teens
M Live Michigan
SAGINAW, MI – A jury deliberated for about two hours before acquitting a popular Roman Catholic priest in a case where he was accused of sexually assaulting two male teens. It was the first of three trials.
The nine-woman, three-man jury delivered its verdicts about 4 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, finding 72-year-old Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr. not guilty of attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The charges are 15-year felonies and DeLand had previously pleaded no contest to them.
Neither of the teens who testified against DeLand were in the courtroom when the verdicts were read. Several supporters of DeLand were seated in the gallery behind him, however. Some gasped at hearing the verdicts. Others cried and hugged each other.
DeLand himself was initially stoic. After the jurors filed out of the courtroom, he stood and began embracing his supporters, smiling as he did so.
Prosecutors are declining to comment on the matter until all DeLand’s trials are resolved, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner said. Defense attorney Alan A. Crawford declined commenting until later in the day.
Jurors began deliberating about 1:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, after attorneys delivered their closing arguments.
The trial began Tuesday with jury selection. Testimony began Wednesday with Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover calling two teenagers, one’s father and former Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian J. Berg to the witness stand.
One teen testified DeLand on May 14, 2017, had attempted to grab his penis in a coatroom within St. Agnes Church in Freeland during a memorial service for a classmate who had committed suicide. The other teen testified DeLand pulled him from class in Freeland High School on Nov. 16, 2017, took him to another room, gave him $20, then slid his hand down his back and touched his left buttock.
DeLand himself took the witness stand Thursday morning and professed his innocence in both alleged instances. After he stepped down, both teens retook the stand to reiterate what they said DeLand had done to them.
DeLand remains charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor involving one of the two teens who already testified and a young man who did not testify in this week’s trial. The remaining charges are to be the focus of two remaining trials.
Police first arrested DeLand on the night of Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, after he conducted Mass at St. Agnes Church in Freeland, where he had most recently been assigned. The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw suspended his faculties.
Police arrested DeLand a second time on April 5 on related charges.
DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to all charges against him. About a month later, he withdrew his plea because he did not want to accept the potential sentence he faced, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Gaertner has said.
DeLand remains free on bond pending his next trial.
Catholic priest Robert DeLand testifies he’s innocent in sexual assault trial of 2 youths
M Live Michigan
SAGINAW, MI – A Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting several young males took to the witness stand in his own trial, professing his innocence in front of a packed courtroom.
Defense attorney Alan A. Crawford on Thursday morning, March 21, called his client, the Rev. Robert J. “Father Bob” DeLand Jr., as a witness.
The previous day, two teens testified against DeLand, 72. One said the priest on May 14, 2017, had attempted to grab his penis in a coatroom within St. Agnes Church in Freeland during a memorial service for a classmate who had committed suicide. The other testified DeLand pulled him from class in Freeland High School on Nov. 16, 2017, took him to another room, gave him $20, then slid his hand down his back and touched his left buttock.
Amid Saginaw Circuit Judge Darnell Jackson’s standing-room-only courtroom, DeLand testified he’s about to celebrate his 46th year as a Roman Catholic priest. He was suspended from his duties as a priest in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw after he was charged last year.
“My job duties essentially is to announce the good news of Jesus Christ,” DeLand said, as one woman in the gallery of his supporters, often with a rosary in her hands, proclaimed “Yes!” “To do that, I am called to be their servant to show them the presence of Jesus in our world, in this courtroom.”
DeLand went on to say he had been part of the Hallway Heroes Program, which he described as a program that brings adults into schools to act as “assuring presences to students.” He said he worked in this capacity at Freeland High School, normally from 6:45 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., though he would infrequently be there for special situations as late as nighttime hours.
He said he knew the teen who claimed he’d grabbed his buttock.
“I met him essentially right after a very tragic incident in which one of the students died from a shotgun wound and (he) and four others were present,” he said. “So, I met (him) the day after. That’s really when I became acquainted with (him).”
As the teen had been drinking when the suicide occurred, he was charged with and later pleaded guilty to minor in possession of alcohol, as were some of his peers. The teen was sentenced to perform 25 hours of community service and he asked that DeLand supervise him as he performed the service, DeLand testified.
On Wednesday, March 20, the teen denied that he had requested DeLand’s supervision.
DeLand went on to say three other students completed their court-ordered community service with him relatively quickly, but the teen who would later accuse him was sporadic in his obligation.
Crawford asked him how the teen was doing in school.
“(He) was challenged by school,” DeLand said. “There were lots of reasons for that.”
Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover objected to the statement on schoolwork, and Jackson sustained it, meaning the jury can’t consider that testimony. Crawford then asked DeLand if he had taken steps to get the teen on track.
“Oh, I did,” the priest said. “I did with the help of the counselors. Perhaps the most specific step we took, it was agreed (the teen) would call me, or I would call (him), to see if his homework was finished.”
Crawford asked if he called the teen 20 times per day, as the teen had alleged in his testimony.
“I don’t have time to call (him) 20 times a day,” DeLand answered. “I encouraged him, very strongly, that this was an important thing to have done because it was an important matter. He simply didn’t show up with the rest of the boys, often indicating he was coming but he didn’t come.”
Crawford then asked him if he had pulled the teen from class, given him money, and touched his buttock.
“No,” DeLand emphatically stated. “No, I would not do that. I would never do that. I spent my life working with young people and I would never do that, especially not to (him).”
Crawford then asked him if he had attempted to grab the other teen’s penis at the May 2017 memorial service, which he said was packed with about 700 attendees.
“Mr. Crawford,” DeLand said, before he engaged in a long pause, “No, it did not occur. It would be the last thing on my mind at that moment because we were in such trauma and, um, I had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people to care for. That did not happen.”
Questioned by the prosecutor
Assistant Prosecutor Hoover then leveled questions at DeLand during cross-examination. She asked why he needed to be at the high school past his regular morning hours on Nov. 16, 2017, the day one witness alleged the priest had touched his buttock.
“It isn’t, Miss Hoover, sometimes a matter of needing,” he replied. “Sometimes, it’s a matter of missing students, so I would often go through the cafeteria and just say, ‘Hello.’”
“‘Missing students’ as in wanting to be near them?” Hoover asked.
“No,” he replied, before adamantly disputing that he would have taken the teen out of class. When Hoover asked if someone else would be lying if they recalled him doing just that, DeLand said either that or he had forgotten doing so.
Hoover then asked DeLand if he had smoked cigarettes with any of the other teens he had been supervising during their community service. He denied he had.
She asked if he had gone to a judge and asked for his alleged victim to work with him. DeLand said he had not. Hoover then pressed and asked if he had any recollection of the teen asking to perform his community service with him.
“No, but yes he did ask,” he said. “My recollection is he did ask me. I don’t recall the specific words.”
Hoover asked DeLand if he had been following the teen during school hours. The priest said he had not. Hoover continued by again asking DeLand if his plan to work with the teen included smoking cigarettes with him.
An extended pause ensued.
“That’s a yes or no,” Hoover prompted.
“No,” DeLand said.
DeLand went on to say he does not recall seeing or speaking with the other alleged victim or his father at the memorial service.
Next, Hoover asked DeLand if the Freeland Community School District superintendent had told him to stop coming to school. Crawford objected to this, but Jackson overruled it.
“I’m not sure why I’m being asked this, but just before my arrest,” DeLand said, “He said they had to put together new rules of Hallway Heroes. He said he asked that of all Hallway Heroes.”
“You don’t recall telling him that you’d go to the school board?”
“You don’t recall telling him, ‘Do you want the full weight of the Catholic Church coming down on (you)?’”
DeLand answered Hoover’s question in the negative.
Hoover then asked DeLand if he typically hugs students.
“Sometimes. It depends what’s going on.”
When Hoover finished, Crawford did not question DeLand again.
Alleged victims recalled
To rebut DeLand’s testimony, Hoover recalled both of the alleged victims who had testified Wednesday and one’s father, who had also testified Wednesday. First up was the now-19-year-old who said DeLand had tried grabbing his penis at St. Agnes Church during the memorial service.
The teen testified again he had attended the service with his father and that they had separated in the church. He said DeLand had asked him how he was doing and then asked him to accompany him into a coatroom.
Had he been mistaken and not actually encountered the priest that day? Hoover asked him.
“I 100 percent spoke to him that day,” he replied. “Absolutely.”
Returning to the stand himself, the teen’s father broke down in a flood of emotion and tears.
“I should have called the police,” he said. “I didn’t. I just know I failed as a father. There was so much I wanted to do and I couldn’t. I still had to keep my job. My son told me we’d lose my job. What could I do?”
The witness said he felt he could not call police due to his employment by the Saginaw Diocese as a maintenance worker. Hoover asked him if he had any doubt that he saw and briefly spoke with DeLand at the memorial service.
“There’s no doubt in my mind at all,” he said.
The other teen victim, the one who had been his community service under DeLand’s supervision, retook to the stand. He said he had missed appointments with DeLand, adding, “I was very uncomfortable. I didn’t feel safe.”
The teen said DeLand in the school hallways would hug him, whisper in his ear, pull him close, and step on his foot to prevent him from moving. Hoover directly asked him if he had requested to do his community service with DeLand.
“I believe he asked me,” he said, adding he thought the priest then went to a judge and requested the duty. “I know I did not go out and ask him.”
He reiterated DeLand had flooded his phone with calls.
“It was in the double digits, I can promise that,” he said. “I would get a phone call every five, 10 minutes. I couldn’t even eat, sit down, relax. I had so many phone calls it was overwhelming. He would text me all the time. I would skip school just to get away from.”
Crawford then addressed the witness, focusing on the teen’s allegations that DeLand would grab him in the hallways.
“In the open hallway, he would get right in front of your face and whisper in your ear? That’s your testimony, correct?” Crawford asked.
Hoover was the first to present her side’s closing arguments to the 10-woman, four-man jury.
“Trust, isolation, betrayal,” she said, addressing jurors from a podium. “Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a short trial. However, it has been an important and informative one.”
She proceeded to remind the jurors of the witnesses’ testimony. In particular, she told how one victim and his father both testified to seeing DeLand at the memorial service, something DeLand said he did not recall.
Had the teen in the coatroom not grabbed DeLand’s upturned palm, the priest would have grabbed his penis, Hoover said. She said the teen did not make a scene, but left to find his dad.
“He didn’t tell his dad until they were out of the building because he didn’t want his dad to do something he’d regret,” she said. They did not immediately notify police as they were afraid the father would lose his employment with the Saginaw Diocese and, as an extension, their family house, Hoover said.
She told how the other victim had testified DeLand frequent invaded in his personal space, grabbed him, whispered in his ear, and stood on his foot, all things Deland disputed.
“He got up on that witness stand showed you what happened,” she said. “He was angry, he was embarrassed, and who wouldn’t be? He’s in counseling now because of his experience with the defendant.
“Why on earth would you take someone to an isolated room to give someone a handshake or a hug?” she rhetorically asked. She also said DeLand had “something over” both alleged victims — one, his dad worked for the church, and, two, he was supervised by DeLand in his performing his community service.
In his closing arguments, Crawford asserted the prosecution hadn’t met it’s burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Think about what they presented,” he said. “They presented no evidence, questionable witnesses, and absolutely no corroboration.
“This was not an honest and thorough investigation,” he continued. “Leads were not pursued. This was because this was an agenda. This was a desperate and deliberate attempt to destroy Father DeLand.”
Crawford referenced testimony from one of the teens, who said he did not immediately notify police of DeLand trying to grab him because “‘I didn’t think much about it.’
“Are those the words of someone who’s been sexually assaulted?” Crawford posed.
He said the teen’s father’s actions do not align with one whose son had been assaulted.
“He would have contacted police. Didn’t happen.”
In her last time to address the jury, Hoover said Crawford had made a powerful argument, though it was not evidence. She attacked the defense’s notion that former Tittabawassee Township Police Detective Brian J. Berg was carrying out an agenda against DeLand.
“It does not make any sense and you’ve not heard any evidence — evidence — that would support such” a theory.
After reading the jurors their instructions, Judge Jackson dismissed them for lunch at 12:45 p.m. and ordered them to return at 1:45 p.m. to begin deliberating.
DeLand is charged with six felonies and one misdemeanor involving two male teens and one young man. The cases are proceeding in three separate trials, with the first trial involving two alleged victims.
Police first arrested DeLand on the night of Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, after he’d conducted Mass at St. Agnes Church in Freeland, where he had most recently been assigned. The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw suspended his faculties.
Police arrested DeLand a second time on April 5 on related charges.
In this first trial, DeLand faces charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct causing personal injury and attempted second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
DeLand in September 2018 pleaded no contest to all charges against him. About a month later, he withdrew his plea because he did not want to accept the potential sentence he faced, said Saginaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark J. Gaertner.
Before Thursday’s testimony, Judge Jackson granted a request from Crawford to allow the jury to consider alternative counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct and attempted fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct as lesser counts. Hoover had objected to this.