Calif. priest pleads no contest to molesting girl

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Priest

(AP Photo)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – A Northern California priest has pleaded no contest to molesting a young girl and admitted to engaging in “substantial sexual contact” with her.

As part of a plea deal, the Rev. Uriel Ojeda could spend up to 8 years in prison after he entered his plea Friday in a Sacramento County courtroom, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Ojeda, 33, who had been a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mercy parish in Redding, admitted to molesting a 13-year-old Sacramento County girl in the bedroom of her parents’ home sometime between June, 2007 and June, 2009. Ojeda was a priest at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Woodland at the time of the offense in Sacramento.

The priest was arrested in Nov.2011 after the father of the victim called the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento to report the allegation.

Ojeda’s plea also came two days after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Eugene Balonon ruled in a pretrial hearing that Ojeda’s admission to the offense in a conversation with a church official and a private investigator was not covered by a clergy-penitent’s privilege and could be used against him at trial.

Deputy District Attorney Allison Dunham said Ojeda entered the girl’s bedroom then reached underneath her pajamas and touched her in a manner that “constitutes substantial sexual conduct with a child under the age of 14 years, to wit, 13 years,” for his own sexual purposes.

When Balonon asked Ojeda on Friday if he engaged in such conduct with the girl, Ojeda said, “I admit.”

In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dropped six other felony counts against Ojeda involving the same victim that could have brought him 20 years in prison.

“This is a fair resolution of the case based upon the facts and circumstances,” Dunham said in a statement. “The victim and her family can move forward with their lives and be proud that they had the courage to report the abuse to the Sacramento Diocese and law enforcement.”

Ojeda’s attorney, Jesse Ortiz, called the case tough for Ojeda, his supporters, the victim and her family – “everybody.”

Ortiz said Ojeda’s decision to accept the plea bargain was equally difficult.

“We always felt that we would be successful at trial, but going through the risks and understanding that the ultimate decision is in the hands of jurors, and we don’t even know who they are at this point, it was just something he wasn’t prepared to do,” Ortiz said.

Ojeda is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 2.

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