Remarks by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas

Remarks by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas

Denis Lyons Charges

July 21, 2009


Thank you all for coming.  I have here with me Costa Mesa Police Captain Ron Smith.

Yesterday afternoon at about 3:30 p.m., Costa Mesa Police officers and Orange County District Attorney Investigators arrested retired Catholic priest Denis Lyons at a community center near his home in Leisure World in Seal Beach. 

Denis Lyons is charged with four felony counts of lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14, occurring between 1992 and 1995, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa.  

Lyons was also charged with a sentencing enhancement for substantial sexual conduct with a child, making the defendant eligible for a mandatory prison sentence. 

At the time of the crime, Lyons was between 57 and 60 years old.  If convicted of all charges, he will be facing up to 14 years in state prison.  Lyons is being held on $100,000 bail. 

Our community has waited a long time for justice as to this defendant. 

In 2003, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office charged Denis Lyons with multiple counts of lewd acts upon a child involving three young boys. 

Unfortunately, that case had to be dismissed based on a 2003 United States Supreme Court case called Stogner v. California, on the grounds of statute of limitations. 

In September 2008, a 23-year-old young man came forward to Costa Mesa Police to report what happened to him from 1992 to 1995, when he was 7 to 9 years old. 

It was extremely difficult for him to come forward because he was ashamed of what had been done to him and because he feared that no one would believe him. 

In this case, Denis Lyons is accused of masturbating John Doe on two different occasions in the rectory and two different occasions in the sacristy at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa.

For the last 10 years as I have served as the District Attorney, this Office has prosecuted a judge, police officers, teachers, religious leaders, coaches, and many others who hold positions of power and trust in our community. 

Our entire community feels great regret and sadness when these people are charged with these types of crimes, but it does remind us that no one is above the law. 

No matter what job they have or what position they hold in society, they should expect to face prosecution if they perpetrate these crimes.   

We have had numerous cases involving priests and ministers.  The cases involving Catholic priests were — John Lenihan, Denis Lyons, Gerald Plesetz, Geraldo Tanilong, and Sigfried Widera. 

All of these cases, except for Tanilong, involved sexual assaults of children which were not reported to law enforcement for many years.  Cases against Lenihan, Lyons, and Plesetz were dismissed in 2003 after the Stogner v. California decision.