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SAGINAW, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The second day of preliminary examinations for accused priest Fr. Robert DeLand brought further emotional testimony from victims.
The 71-year-old Saginaw priest is being accused of sexually assaulting three young men, two of them minors at the time of the alleged abuse. Two victims testified in Wednesday's hearings, and a third took the stand Friday.
Father DeLand seemed in high spirits as he entered the court room, chatting, smiling and even laughing with friends, who remained in the room throughout the duration of the exams.
The court first heard testimony from a 10th-grader, who had taken the stand Wednesday and was back in court Friday. He had met DeLand at Freeland High School last year; at the time, the boy was grieving the loss of his friend Michael Dennis, who had committed suicide in May.
Father DeLand took him under his wing, paid for his counseling sessions, gave him cash and gifts, including cigarettes and alcohol, even though he was under the legal age limit for both. During Wednesday's testimony, he said the priest told him to watch gay porn, masturbate to it and call the priest to tell him how he felt.
The male victim cooperated with police during their undercover sting last year, wearing a recording device that captured incriminating evidence that the priest gave the boy $100 to buy ecstasy, an illegal drug — one of the incidents that led to DeLand's arrest in late February.
Detective Brian Berg, who spearheaded the undercover operation that ended in DeLand's arrest in February, also took the stand and was questioned by DeLand's attorney Alan Crawford, who tried to prove entrapment. Berg explained that he directed the victim to bring up the topic of pills, saying that there were "a lot of pills around Freeland."
"That's all the victim said," Det. Berg explained. "Father DeLand took it from there." According to audio, the priest initiated four other conversations about the drug ecstasy.
After the court broke for recess, DeLand could be seen in the hallway smiling and laughing with his attorney and friends.
Back in session, an 18-year-old took the stand, a third victim, who claimed that at the memorial service for suicide victim Michael Dennis in May 2017, DeLand led the 18-year-old to the coat room in the back of St. Agnes Church (where DeLand was pastor) and tried to grope the young man's groin. The victim fled the church with his father, who contacted the diocese the next day to report the attempted assault. According to him, nothing was ever done, and the diocese never contacted law enforcement.
The victim's father also took the stand. At one point he became visibly emotional, choking back tears as he said of his reaction to the assault, "I wanted to confront him [DeLand]," someone he had known for 20 years. Only after the father learned about DeLand's arrest in February did he reach out to police, who arrested DeLand a second time in April on new charges.
At the end of the examinations, Crawford asked the court to release DeLand from house arrest, arguing that he posed no danger to others. Judge David Hoffman denied the request, stating these were "serious charges" carrying penalties of up to 15 years, and that DeLand is "a flight risk."
Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gaertner afterwards confirmed to the press that "dozens" of victims have since come forward since DeLand's arrest.