A judge on Wednesday refused to reduce the bond for a former Queen of Peace Catholic Church priest who is jailed on suspicion of molesting a teenager from the Mesa church.
Judge M. Jean Hoag, a former sex crimes prosecutor, justified her decision to a standing-room only courtroom by saying circumstances had not changed in the Rev. Karl LeClaire's case since his $180,000 bond was set June 2.
Defense attorney Bruce Feder said he was disappointed in the judge's ruling because, given the allegations against LeClaire, anyone else might have been released on his own recognizance.
"Were he not a priest this would be different," Feder said. "This is a hard time to be a Catholic priest."
LeClaire stands accused in a two-count grand jury indictment of molesting a 14-year-old Queen of Peace parishioner in 1996 and again in 1999.
The indictment alleges LeClaire touched the boy sexually over his clothing.
Deputy county attorney Rachel Mitchell argued that LeClaire, who was also principal of the parish's grade school until August 2001, has access to money for travel if he decided to flee while on release.
Mitchell said LeClaire also has plenty of incentive to leave because he is facing 10 to 26 years in prison if convicted.
If he makes bond, LeClaire will have to wear an electronic bracelet so authorities can monitor his movements.
Fifteen supporters and family members attended Wednesday's packed hearing.
"Father Karl is nothing but a fine, upstanding person," said Valerie Frasier, a Queen of Peace parishioner.
Frasier said she believes LeClaire is caught in the crossfire of a public conflict between Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley and Bishop Thomas O'Brien, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix.
She said she is so confident in LeClaire's innocence that she would allow him to watch her 9-year-old granddaughter over night. LeClaire's family left Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa visibly distraught and declined comment except for a woman who said she was the priest's godmother.
"God will take care of everything," the woman said.
Also emerging from Wednesday's hearing was a glimpse of what could become a classic case of “he said/she said.”
Feder said that the victim, now 21, had previously denied LeClaire committed any sexual misconduct against him when questioned by church authorities in 2000.
It wasn't until LeClaire took the victim to court to collect on a loan that the sex allegations came out, Feder said. Mitchell said there were many other acts that weren't charged. "The victim described years of ongoing abuse," Mitchell said.
The prosecutor said LeClaire "groomed" the teenager for sexual abuse by telling him everyone was bisexual and it was okay to be aroused by another man.
The grooming also consisted of telling the boy he wanted him to be his "gigolo" and by taking him on trips around the world.
Feder said those trips consisted of parties of up to 60 people and no one else ever complained of inappropriate behavior by LeClaire. LeClaire is one of six priests whose indictments were made public June 2, when Romley announced an immunity agreement with O'Brien.
One other priest is jailed in Indiana, one is free on his own recognizance, two are wanted by authorities and believed to be out of the country and one is dead.