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Ex-chaplain gets 4-year sentence for abuse

November 23, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Kenneth Kirk Behrel, a former St. James School chaplain convicted in 2002 of sexually abusing two students at the school in the 1980s, was sentenced to serve four years in prison Monday while in Washington County Circuit Court for a hearing scheduled about a retrial in one of the students' cases.

In May 2003, The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the state's second-highest court, remanded the case of one of the former students, a Frederick, Md., man, now in his late 30s, back to Circuit Court for a possible retrial. The court ruled that a Circuit judge erred when he allowed the other former student, a Virginia man also now in his late 30s, to testify about other incidents of abuse involving the Frederick man during the February 2002 trial, according to published reports.

A 12-year consecutive prison sentence in the case of the Frederick man was overturned along with the conviction, said Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil.

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On Monday, in a hearing scheduled for the retrial, Behrel, 55, entered an Alford plea to sexual child abuse in the Frederick man's case.

Under an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges there is enough evidence for the state to get a conviction.

Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick C. Wright III sentenced Behrel to serve four years in prison, to be served consecutively to the 12-year sentence he is serving for the conviction in the Virginia man's case.

"I will make no comment about the matter other than this sentence must be consecutive because there were two separate crimes," Wright said after sentencing Behrel.

Behrel's attorney, Arthur Gutkin, said Behrel has served three years and a month of the 12-year sentence ordered in the Virginia man's case.

In April 2002, a Washington County Circuit jury found Behrel guilty of one count of abusing the Virginia man, who was a minor in Behrel's care at the time of the abuse. That conviction for abuse of a child and the 12-year prison sentence were affirmed in a May 2003 decision by The Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Veil said.

The case of the Frederick man was heard in February 2002, Veil said.

"The state takes these cases extremely seriously because they can adversely affect the victim for years, and, sometimes for the rest of their lives," Veil said.

Both cases dated back to incidents in the 1980s while the men were 15-year-old students at the prep school near Hagerstown and Behrel, a former Episcopalian priest, was the school chaplain, according to published reports. Both former students testified at the trials, according to reports published in The Herald-Mail.

The now defrocked priest left St. James in 1985 and was transferred to a parish in Illinois before he left the priesthood in 2001, according to published reports.

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