Prosecutors: Father Bob plea is fair, saves victims from reliving abuse in court

SAGINAW (WJRT) - (09/05/2018) - Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner understands many people are upset that Father Robert DeLand likely won't be headed to prison.

But he says there are a number of factors that go into deciding a person's possible sentence.

"Basically in his case, because he had no prior felony record and no prior record of these types of misdeeds, that's why his sentence is lower than what some people would be satisfied with," Gaertner said during a press conference Wednesday.

"In a certain way that's a life sentence for him. He'll never be looked at in this community the same as he once did," said Saginaw County Assistant Prosecutor Melissa Hoover.

DeLand, known by many as "Father Bob," will serve one-year in jail, five-years on probation and will be registered as a sex offender.

On Tuesday, the 71-year-old former senior pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Freeland pleaded no contest to six felony charges and one misdemeanor. A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such at sentencing.

"I told him the deal was this, there is no deal. He pleads as charged," Gaertner said.

DeLand is accused of various forms of sexual abuse against three young men -- two age 17 and one age 21 when the alleged crimes took place -- during his time as a Catholic priest.

The alleged crimes took place at a Tittabawassee Township school, the rectory at St. Agnes Parish and DeLand's personal condominium on Mallard Cove in Saginaw Township.

Hoover, who handled this case in court, said the three young men involved came forward to make sure DeLand would not be able to abuse anyone else.

She said he plea means none of them will have to relive what happened by testifying in court.

"This was the best way to respect not only their dignity and their bravery, but also to allow them some closure and to get on with their lives," Hoover said. "A trial seems like the answer, but that's not always the case. And closure comes from a number of different things."

A task force was created to investigate DeLand.

"We followed the evidence, and we didn't follow emotion, it's the evidence we're after," Gaertner said.

Gaertner said the case is not closed.

"The pleas yesterday did not stop the investigation, this is still continuing, this is not over," Gaertner said.

The Michigan State Police Computer Crime Unit continues to analyze evidence gathered in raids.

We asked if anyone else might face charges. "Frankly, I'd like to see no more charges. I'd like to see an end to it, but we're not going to stop it because he plead yesterday," Gaertner said.

Tittabawassee Township Detective Brian Berg met with one of the 17-year-old victims last November.

"Our victim is in counseling now, this has been very traumatic on him," Berg said.

That teen helped investigators record DeLand.

And while investigators feel they had the evidence to convict DeLand they also know going to trial has risks.

"And if we had one juror on there that would, you know, have that philosophy of protecting the mother church no matter what, then we'd get a hung jury, or something of that nature, then we'd revictimize the victims again," Berg said.

We have a statement from DeLand's attorney Alan Crawford which reads:

"Today was an extremely difficult day for my client. Our trial was set to begin tomorrow. However, Father Bob was simply ready to move on from this entire ordeal. The no contest plea officially closes this chapter of my client's life."

The Catholic Diocese of Saginaw also shared this statement on the evening the plea was entered:

"While the case is still pending the diocese does not want to influence it in any way. We will have a comment when the sentence is imposed."

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