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On re-trial, St. Louis priest is convicted of abusing teenager

By WILLIAM C. LHOTKA -St. Louis Post Dispatch
August 29, 2003

A jury convicted the Rev. Bryan Kuchar late Friday night of sexually abusing a troubled teenager in 1995 when Kuchar was a parish priest at Assumption Catholic Church in south St. Louis County.

The jury in St. Louis County Circuit Court found Kuchar guilty of three out of six counts of statutory sodomy. Jurors were to return to the courtroom of Judge John Ross for the penalty phase at 9 a.m. today.

The trial was the second for the priest, who turned 38 on Sunday, and the alleged victim, who celebrated his 23rd birthday in July. In May, a jury deadlocked 6-6.

The second trial followed a similar path as the first, and prosecutor Rob Livergood and defense attorney Scott Rosenblum gave similar closing statements.

The young man testified he had oral and anal sex with Kuchar. The priest denied any sexual involvement with the youth.

Kuchar also claimed that his confession on April 10 last year to police Detectives Jennifer Williams and John Newsham was bogus and coerced. They had questioned him for three hours.

"Everybody has different breaking points. Everybody has different buttons," said Rosenblum, adding that Williams and Newsham "are professionals. They know what buttons to push. They told him: We just want to close the file and we can all go home."

Kuchar testified he made up stories about sex with the youth so the detectives would stop berating him and had promised there would be neither charges against him nor publicity.

Kuchar stuck to that scenario through several hours of cross-examination Friday by Livergood. That prompted the prosecutor to tell the jury in closing arguments: "That man isn't going to be led around by anybody. You saw what he is made of. No one is going to come in and confess to something like that, not in that short a period of time."

The state brought in four additional witnesses in this trial. One was a co-worker who said Kuchar had asked her a question about the statute of limitations as it applied to an eighth-grader. Another was a jail nurse who said Kuchar did not appear distraught after his arrest.

A third witness was the Rev. Kenneth Robert Smoot, who testified that Kuchar had admitted his relationship with the teen to him about two weeks after Kuchar's arrest last year.

A nun, Sister Lydia Ann Braun, said Kuchar had also made an incriminating remark to her last year.

While Livergood questioned Kuchar's credibility, Rosenblum attacked the credibility of the accuser by saying the man was a liar, a manipulator and an opportunist.

Rosenblum said police had gone after Kuchar based only on the word of the alleged victim because of the media coverage of police scandals in Boston and elsewhere.

"We don't decide cases with a mob mentality," said the defense lawyer in exhorting jurors to find his client not guilty.

In asking for a conviction and pointing to Kuchar wearing his clerical garb, Livergood countered: "This case is about these two people. It is not about the Catholic Church. It is not about these clothes. It's about this man."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests