Crime, Fire + Courts

Davis priest pleads guilty to unlawful sex with minor

By From page A1 | June 29, 2014

WOODLAND — Speaking publicly for the first time, a Davis teen who engaged in a sexual relationship with a St. James Catholic Church priest said Friday she never wanted to see the case end up in a courtroom.

“I would like the court to know that all conduct was consensual and there was no abuse or manipulation, and I did not want this matter prosecuted,” the girl, identified in court documents as “M.L.,” told Yolo Superior Court judge Paul Richardson, who had just accepted a guilty plea from defendant Hector Coria Gonzalez.

The girl said she had additional comments to make, but she would record them in a letter to be read at Coria’s Aug. 8 sentencing hearing.

In an unexpected plea deal, the 45-year-old Coria admitted to one felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Under the agreement, Coria will avoid state prison and registering as a sex offender but must serve three years of probation as well as 90 days in county jail, though he may apply to serve that time through an alternative work program.

He also must attend counseling and stay away from the alleged victim until she turns 18 in November.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss three additional charges in the case — two counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, also felonies, and one misdemeanor count of oral copulation with a minor.

Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Coria, who has been free on bail since shortly after his arrest, told Richardson he understood his legal rights, waived his right to a jury trial and indicated he understood the consequences of entering a guilty plea.

Prosecuting attorney Diane Ortiz said in court that the relationship lasted about eight months, starting in September 2013 when the girl was 16, but the girl clarified in an email to The Enterprise that it began after she turned 17.

A criminal complaint filed against Coria earlier this month alleged that the conduct occurred in a home, a car and in the rectory of the 1275 B St. church.

Davis police launched an investigation in early May, arresting Coria on May 9 after serving search warrants at several undisclosed locations. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento then placed Coria on leave from St. James, where he had served since 2012.

The plea agreement was announced in court shortly before 10 a.m. Friday, about an hour and a half after the scheduled start of a hearing in which the alleged victim — who is soon leaving the state to attend college — was slated to have her testimony video recorded for future use in the case.

Coria’s defense attorney, Linda Parisi, called the agreement the “best compromise resolution” given the circumstances of the case.

“This was a very private matter between two people that for other reasons was made public — certainly not by either of these two participants — and (the girl) did not want the matter prosecuted,” Parisi said.

Ortiz, the prosecuting attorney, said while that may be the case, the fact remains that the girl’s young age made the relationship an illegal one.

“In this case it makes it more egregious because the age difference is so significant, plus he abused a position of trust by being a priest in her parish,” Ortiz said. “We’re pleased that it resolved so that we can further protect the victim from any scrutiny and publicity.”

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

Lauren Keene

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