Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Former Priest Given 12-Year Prison Term : Courts: Robert L. Ducker admitted molesting two boys who attended his church in Palmdale.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Episcopal priest who admitted molesting two boys who attended his Palmdale church has been sentenced to 12 years in state prison.

Robert L. Ducker's sentence, handed down Thursday by Lancaster Superior Court Judge Haig Kehiayan, was the maximum permitted under a plea agreement reached last month with prosecutors.

John K. Spillane, head deputy district attorney in Lancaster, said his office requested the maximum sentence because molestations occurred on a number of occasions and because Ducker had violated a clergyman's special position of trust.

"The acts took place over a long period of time," the prosecutor said. "They were not just incidental sexual contact. . . .Due to the nature of this offense, we felt that 12 years in state prison was appropriate."

Ducker, 63, was arrested in March on charges that he molested two youths, who are now 15, over the past two years while serving as vicar of Christ the King Mission in Palmdale. At the time of his arrest, Ducker resigned his post and informed the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles that he had been involved in sexual misconduct with minors, a diocesan spokesman said.

Investigators said an older brother of one of the victims learned about the incidents and reported them to his mother, who contacted authorities.

Initially, Ducker was charged with eight counts of committing various sex acts with minors, and he faced up to 20 years in state prison if convicted.

But last month, in an agreement with prosecutors, Ducker pleaded no contest to three counts of lewd conduct with a child, punishable by no more than 12 years in prison. He also agreed to cooperate with deputies in their investigation of other child molestation cases.

Ducker's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Roy Wallen, could not be reached for comment Friday. But he said earlier that Ducker entered the plea partly to spare the boys the trauma of testifying.

"He's expressing remorse concerning the incidents," Wallen said last month. "It's appropriate to resolve the case."

Manuel R. Martinez, head deputy public defender in the Lancaster office, said Wallen argued unsuccessfully that Ducker should be placed on probation, not in prison, because of his record of community service, his age and his health problems.

"He felt it was a harsh sentence," Martinez said.

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Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said the punishment did not "seem like an unusually high sentence." She pointed out that a single count of lewd conduct with a child carries a maximum sentence of eight years.

Anne S. Howard, chief of staff for the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, said her organization has assigned a priest who is also a mental health professional to help Palmdale church members who were upset by the Ducker case. She said the families of the victims in the case "did not accept our offer of counseling assistance."

"It's very sad for all of us," Howard said of the case.

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