|For Immediate Release
Case # 09HF1289
August 24, 2012
|Susan Kang Schroeder
Chief of Staff
RETIRED PRIEST SENTENCED FOR MOLESTING 7-YEAR-OLD MALE PARISHIONER INSIDE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND PRIESTS’ LIVING QUARTERS
SANTA ANA – A retired priest with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County was sentenced today for molesting a young boy almost two decades ago in the rectory and sacristy at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa. Denis Lyons, 78, Seal Beach, pleaded guilty March 23, 2012, to four felony counts of lewd acts on a child under 14. He was sentenced to one year in jail, five years of formal probation, 400 hours of community service, and lifetime sex offender registration.
Sexual Assault of John Doe
Between Jan. 1, 1992, and Dec. 31, 1995, Lyons molested a young male student, John Doe, 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 sexually assaulted the 7 to 9-year-old John Doe 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 September 2008, John Doe filed a report with the Costa Mesa Police Department (CMPD). Lyons was arrested July 20, 2009, while playing cards at a local community center near his home in Leisure World in Seal Beach. He was arrested by detectives from CMPD with the assistance of the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) Bureau of Investigation.
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 never charged 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.
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.