|For Immediate Release
Case # 09HF1289
July 21, 2009
|Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
RETIRED PRIEST CHARGED WITH MASTURBATION-MOLEST OF 7-YEAR-OLD MALE PARISHIONER INSIDE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND IN PRIESTS’ LIVING QUARTERS
*Criminal complaint was filed against same defendant in 2003 accusing him of molesting three other young male parishioners; Case dismissed by U.S. Supreme Court decision
NEWPORT BEACH – The Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) filed charges today against a retired priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County for molesting a young boy more than a decade ago in the rectory and sacristy at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa. Denis Lyons, 75, Seal Beach, has been charged with four felony counts of lewd acts on a child under 14 with a sentencing enhancement allegation for substantial sexual conduct with a child. If convicted on all charges, he faces a maximum sentence of 14 years in state prison. Lyons is being held on $100,000 bail and is expected to be arraigned tomorrow, Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach. The time and Department are to be determined.
“Our community has waited a long time for justice from this defendant. These types of crimes rob children of innocence and normal rites of passage into adulthood,” said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. “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.”
Sexual Assault of John Doe #1
Between Jan. 1, 1992, and Dec. 31, 1995, Lyons is accused of molesting a young male student, John Doe #1, while the victim was a second and third grade student at St. John the Baptist Catholic School. The school was part of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa, where Lyons served as a priest.
On four occasions, Lyons is accused of sexually assaulting the 7 to 9-year-old John Doe #1 by engaging in masturbation with the victim twice in his room in the parish rectory and twice in the church sacristy. A rectory is the residence and administrative office for the parish priests of a church. A sacristy is a room inside the church used to store religious garments, church documents, and sacred vessels.
In July 2008, an attorney, who had been hired by John Doe #1 to represent him in a civil case, contacted the OCDA to report that John Doe #1 had been molested by Lyons. John Doe #1 personally filed a report with the Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD) in September 2008.
Prior Sexual Assault Case and Subsequent Supreme Court Ruling
In April 2003, Lyons was charged by the OCDA with molesting another boy under the age of 14 between 1978 and 1981. Two other male victims were alleged on the complaint as independent corroborative evidence, but were uncharged due to the expiration of the statute of limitations. All three of the young boys attended St. John the Baptist Catholic Church while Lyons was a priest there. While this case was ultimately dismissed, the evidence of molest against one of the victims, John Doe #2, will be used in the current case as independent corroboration to extend the tolling of the statue of limitations as to John Doe #1.
The April 2003 case was dismissed for the following reason: Prior to 1994, California law allowed for charges to be filed for sexual crimes within six years from the date of violation. In 1994, a California law (then PC 801, now PC 803) was passed stating that criminal charges can be filed for sexual crimes that occurred outside of the 6-year restriction without limitation as long as certain criteria are met including; 1) The case must be filed within one year of being reported by the victim to law enforcement; 2) The crimes must be against a child under the age of 18 and include substantial sexual conduct such as masturbation, oral copulation, penetration by foreign object, sexual intercourse, or sodomy; and 3) The case must be corroborated by clear, independent, admissible evidence.
In July 2003, three months after Lyons was charged in Orange County for the molestation, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Stogner v. California that it was unconstitutional for the timeline for filing sexual charges to go back infinitely. The Court determined that PC 801 could not be used retroactively and only applied to crimes that occurred from the time the law went into effect. Any crime that occurred prior to the passage of PC 801 was subject to the six-year limitation. As a result, sex crimes that occurred before 1988, or six years prior to the passage of PC 801 could no longer be prosecuted. The 2003 case against Lyons had to be dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired on the 1978 to 1981 molests.
Circumstances of Arrest
Lyons, who lives in Leisure World in Seal Beach, was arrested yesterday, July 20, 2009, while playing cards at a local community center by detectives from CMPD with the assistance of the OCDA Bureau of Investigation.
CMPD has been instrumental in these investigations and spent hundreds of hours comparing the cases, conducting interviews, and eventually arresting Lyons for the offenses.