Witness Against Priest Turns Defiant
The tears of the key witness in the trial of admitted child molester Father Michael Wempe turned to open defiance Tuesday as the retired priest’s lawyer cross-examined him about details of his alleged abuse.
The witness, who was identified in court only as Jayson B., had cried through three days of testimony about his alleged fondling and oral copulation by the priest, whom Cardinal Roger M. Mahony had assigned to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after sending him for treatment for pedophilia.
But when attorney Leonard Levine questioned his memory of being abused in a purple-blue Thunderbird three times from 1991 to 1995, Jayson B. refused to change his story. Levine said the car wasn’t bought until 1995.
“You are asking me about a car I was in five times 15 years ago,” Jayson B., now 26, said. “I’m not going to change what I remember.”
The witness repeatedly told Levine these were details he had spent a lifetime trying to forget.
Wempe originally was charged with abusing five boys, including Jayson B.'s brothers, but was released from jail when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California could not retroactively prosecute decades-old abuse cases.
Jayson B. then came forward and accused the former priest of molesting him in the 1990s.
Wempe later conceded that he had molested 13 boys, including Jayson B.'s older brothers. Wempe’s lawyers say Jayson B. is lying to avenge his family.
Earlier, Jayson B. testified that he never told anyone that Wempe had molested him, even after his two older brothers went to authorities in 2002 to report that the priest had molested them.
“I knew that he was going to be punished and I would never have to reveal my secret,” he testified, adding that he “would have taken this to the grave.”
But his attitude changed a year later, when Jayson B. learned that the criminal case against Wempe had been dismissed and the now-retired priest was a free man.
Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Todd Hicks asked Jayson B. how he felt when he saw a photograph of a grinning Wempe walking out of jail. “I felt like I had been punched in the stomach,” he responded.
Jayson B. said he learned that his alleged molestations could still be prosecuted under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. “I knew that if I told what had happened to me that he would be punished,” he testified.
The man said he spent the summer after graduating from UCLA trying to build up the courage to tell his family and police that Wempe had molested him too.
On cross-examination, Levine asked if he had come forward with the current accusations to protect his brothers and mother, who were upset when Wempe was released from jail.
“No,” he answered. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”
Jayson B.'s testimony is to continue today in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom of Judge Curtis Rappe.