Saginaw county prosecutors say the prospect of audio recordings of himself being played in open court prompted a Catholic priest to plead no contest in a sexual assault case.
Last week, a jury acquitted Rev. Robert Deland Jr. on charges he sexually assaulted two teens.
But before a second trial on additional charges could begin this week, Deland pleaded no contest to a sexual assault charge and two other charges.
He faces up to 15 years in prison on the most serious charge when he’s sentenced next month.
“When somebody wants to plea to max charges, we’re not going to stand in their way,” says Mark Gaertner, the county’s chief assistant prosecutor.
Had the priest not entered a plea, prosecutors were planning on playing audio recordings of Deland and a teenager. Gaertner says it would have been “foolish” for Deland to have gone ahead with the second trial.
“Finally when he realized that those tapes were going to be played, when his feet were put to the fire, and he knew that tapes would be played in court, he decided to make his decision” says Gaertner.
The Saginaw diocese placed Deland on administrative leave from his duties as a Catholic priest after his arrest.
Gaertner is not ruling out the potential for additional victims to come forward in the Deland case. Though the veteran prosecutor says they will have to consult Michigan’s Attorney General’s office to determine which agency will need to proceed with the investigation.
The Michigan Attorney General’s office has been investigating allegations of sexual abuse involving Catholic clergy for months. The investigation has received hundreds of abuse claims. In February, Attorney General Dana Nessel said there could be a thousand victims. The state’s investigation is expected to take two more years.