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Former priest's trial begins

February 07, 2002

Former priest's trial begins



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI
kimy@herald-mail.com


A former Episcopal priest accused of sexually abusing a student at St. James School said on a tape recording played Wednesday in Washington County Circuit Court that his behavior was the result of no social life.

The tape between Kenneth K. Behrel, 52, and one of his alleged victims, now 34, was recorded in 2001 by Maryland State Police Trooper 1st Class Charles Faith, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum said.

Behrel, who was a school chaplain, teacher and dorm hall master at the school outside Hagerstown from 1981 to 1986, pleaded not guilty to abuse of a child before Circuit Judge John McDowell on Wednesday morning.

On the recording played during the trial, Behrel said he felt isolated at the elite prep school. He had no social circle at the school and created his own by inviting male students to his apartment on the first floor of the dorm, he said on the tape.

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The former student testified Wednesday that he was pressured into having oral and anal sex with Behrel, viewed pornography and used an inhalant that Behrel kept in a footlocker in his apartment.

At one point on the tape, Behrel asked the former student to try to put himself in his place.

"I was subject to the situation I was in," said Behrel.

The recording was played after the alleged victim testified before a jury of seven men and five women.

"Tell me it wasn't my fault. Tell me that it was you, that you took advantage of me," the victim pleaded with Behrel on the tape.

After a pause Behrel said, "I know it wasn't your fault."

On the tape, Behrel never said he molested any student. When the former student asked him to apologize for the abuse, he said "I told you I'm sorry for what I've done. I wish I could go back and erase it but I can't."

During a motions hearing before the trail, Behrel took the stand and denied having sexual contact with students.

Behrel's attorney, Greg Bannon, said in his opening statement that the alleged incidents never happened.

Bannon said the allegations against Behrel were suspect because of the 20-year delay in reporting them, and contended the victim was influenced to make the charges by a counselor.

Lochbaum, in her opening statement, said Behrel preyed on vulnerable students new to the school. He befriended them, plied them with drugs, alcohol and pornography and abused them, she said.

She said both victims felt powerless to resist and kept silent because of the shame.

Behrel said on the tape that when he left St. James to work at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Grayslake, Ill., 15 years ago, his life changed.

"Since I've been here, I'm fulfilled. I have friends who care and love me, which I didn't have (in Washington County)," said Behrel.

Before the tape was played, the former student, who was 15 years old when he entered the school, testified that Behrel sexually abused him about 25 to 30 times from 1983-1986.

Jurors today are to hear testimony from another former St. James student, now a 35-year-old married man living in Virginia. That former student testified during a motions hearing with the jury absent Wednesday that Behrel coerced him to have sex by threatening to take away his privileges as religious assistant.

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