Ex-Kansas priest found guilty of plotting death of accuser
Prospective victim was man who had accused him of sexual
abuse. He could face life in prison.
DALLAS — A former Roman Catholic priest with ties to the Kansas City area was found guilty Thursday of plotting the death of a man who accused him of sexual abuse.
The Dallas County jury returned its verdict on John M. Fiala after a few hours’ deliberation.
After the verdict, testimony began in the penalty phase. Fiala could be sentenced to up to life in prison for solicitation of capital murder.
Prosecutors alleged that Fiala tried to hire a neighbor’s brother to kill the man who accused the priest of abusing him in 2008. That’s when the man was 16 and Fiala was the priest at a rural West Texas parish.
Defense attorney Rex Gunter told the jury that Fiala had no true intentions of having his accuser killed.
Fiala testified earlier Thursday that he was told by his neighbor, Scottie Fisher, that the neighbor’s brother would likely turn on him if he wasn’t convinced that the hit was on.
“I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d be the one on the list, marked to be killed, according to what Scottie said,” Fiala said.
But the man Fiala met with in November 2010 and instructed to kill his accuser for $5,000 was actually an undercover police officer. Their entire conversation was recorded on video and played for the jury on Wednesday.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors urged jurors not to believe Fiala’s claims that his actions were motivated only by fear that his own life was in danger.
“John Fiala is not a puppet,” said prosecutor Brandon Birmingham. “He is a puppeteer.”
Fiala was arrested September 2010 in Lawrence, Kan., and extradited to Edwards County, Texas, on four counts of sex crimes against children. The indictment in Edwards County is still pending.
From August 1998 until mid-2001, Fiala served as spiritual director to the SOLT (Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) community, which maintains a religious house in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He did not have a parish assignment in the diocese.
Fiala was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee from Aug. 31, 2001, to January 2002. He helped at a parish in Holton, Kan., from January to April 2002, according to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
No sexual abuse charges have been filed against Fiala in Kansas or Missouri.
When Fiala was charged with plotting a murder in the fall of 2010, Catholic officials on both sides of the state line said they received no complaints about Fiala when he was in the area.
Punishment phase of trial continues for ex-priest convicted of trying to hire hit man to kill abuse accuser
Punishment phase of trial continues for ex-priest convicted of
trying to hire hit man to kill abuse accuser
Ex-priest John Fiala will soon learn whether he’ll be sentenced to life in prison or something less for trying to hire a hit man to kill a teenage boy who accused him of sexual assault.
The Dallas County jury that convicted Fiala yesterday is hearing testimony this morning in the punishment phase of the trial. Among those expected to testify is the abuse accuser, who is now 20.
The man is not being named because The Dallas Morning News generally does not identify possible victims of sex crimes. He also testified on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old former Roman Catholic priest faces separate charges he sexually assaulted the boy in West Texas several years ago, including at gunpoint. The purported hit man he tried to hire to kill the boy in a 2010 meeting in Dallas was actually an undercover Texas Department of Public Safety agent.
After Fiala’s arrest, authorities found photos of young men, and possibly boys, on his computer. Some of them were wearing only underwear and exposing themselves.
Fiala also apparently used a Facebook account under the name “Ziggy the Great,” collected toys and had a Sponge Bob Square Pants calendar, according to testimony.