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Former priest again convicted of sexual abuse

April 12, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A former St. James School chaplain, convicted in February of sexually abusing a student at the school in the 1980s, was convicted Thursday of sexually abusing a second student.

A Washington County Circuit jury deliberated for about 90 minutes before finding Kenneth Kirk Behrel, 52, guilty of one count of abusing a Virginia man, now 36, who was a minor in his care at the time of the abuse.

Washington County Circuit Judge John McDowell sentenced Behrel to two consecutive 12-year prison terms for the two convictions.

A jury in February found the former Episcopal priest and teacher guilty of molesting a Frederick, Md., man, now 34, when the man was a student at St. James.

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Defense attorney Greg Bannon said Behrel would appeal.

Both cases stemmed from the 1980s while the men were 15-year-old students at the elite prep school near Hagerstown and Behrel was the school chaplain. Both former students testified Thursday.

McDowell said Behrel abused the student's trust, which left a mark as indelible as a beating.

"Their bodies were merely objects to use to satisfy your own desires," McDowell said.

In her opening statement, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Susan Lochbaum said Behrel was a predator who used drugs, porn, religious favors and attention to lure his victims to his on-campus apartment. Once he captivated them, Behrel forced himself on the troubled boys, she said.

The 36-year-old man testified that the abuse started with footrubs and progressed to sex. He said Behrel forced himself on him even after he was immobilized in a body cast following a hiking accident.

He reluctantly came forward after being questioned by police investigating claims made by the 34-year-old former student, he said.

"I don't know how it ever happened. I can only fathom that through the experiences in my life I was vulnerable," he said.

Bannon told the jury that details that the former students gave investigators were inconsistent, and reminded jurors that the prosecution had the burden of proof.

On Thursday, as in the February trial, Behrel denied the abuse charges from the stand. He also denied he ever used marijuana or cocaine and said the Virginia man was "a ladies man" who partied a lot.

The only other defense witness to testify, a former St. James student, said everybody at St. James had a trunk.

The prosecution introduced into evidence a black locker found at Behrel's home in Illinois. Inside, police found one pornographic magazine, Lochbaum said.

The now defrocked priest left St. James in 1995 to work at St. Andrew's Church in Grayslake, Ill.

Prior to sentencing, Lochbaum said the diocese shares some of the blame because it had suspicions of Behrel's behavior but failed to act.

When given an opportunity to address the judge before sentencing, Behrel said he was a victim of a "Salem witch hunt." He said the victims were perjurers and would face "eternal consequences" because they helped send a priest to prison.

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