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O.C. priest will spend year in jail for molesting boy in 1990s

Denis LyonsA retired Roman Catholic priest in Orange County was sentenced to a year in jail, probation and community service and will be forced to register as a sex offender for molesting a grade-school student in the parish rectory and inside the church more than a decade ago, Orange County prosecutors said.

Denis Lyons, 78, pleaded guilty in March to four felony counts of lewd acts with a child under 14 on four occasions in which, prosecutors said, Lyons sexually assaulted the student at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Costa Mesa. The boy was in second and third grade when the assaults occurred. 

Prosecutors said the molestations occurred between Jan. 1, 1992 and Dec. 31, 1995, when the boy was between 7 and 9 years old. Prosecutors said Lyons, a priest in the Diocese of Orange, molested the boy twice in Lyons' room in the church rectory and twice in the sacristy, a room within the church where religious garments and sacred vessels are stored.

In addition to the year in jail, Lyons was sentenced to five years of formal probation, 400 hours of community service and will register as a lifetime sex offender, according to a statement from the Orange County district attorney's office.

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors read a statement on behalf of the victim, who was unnamed: "Today is the day I finally have closure. I have spent 16 years living in pain, living in shame. He took away my innocence as a child. This man has ruined my life and many others besides me. He has changed my perception of religion, life, and right and wrong. Him pleading guilty not only gives me closure but gives other victims closure as well. He is a bad person, a bad man."

The victim of the molestation filed a report with Costa Mesa police in September 2008. Lyons -- retired and living at Leisure World in Seal Beach -- was arrested in July 2009 as he played cards. 

Lyons was previously charged by Orange County prosecutors in 2003 for allegedly molesting another boy between 1978 and 1981. Prosecutors said two other male victims were included in the complaint as independent corroborative evidence, but those accusations never led to charges because the statute of limitations had expired. The 2003 charges were ultimately dismissed for the same reason.

But prosecutors said a change in California law, in 1994, extended the period in which some sex crimes can be prosecuted, allowing the Orange County district attorney to pursue the most recent case against Lyons. Charges in the previous case were not pursued because the Supreme Court ruled the law change could not be applied to allegations made before the law went into effect.

A statement from another man, who said he was 10 years old when he was molested, was also read during the sentencing hearing.

"I was an innocent 10-year-old child who just suffered the death of my father; my mother thought that getting me involved with the church would help ease my pain," the victim said in the statement. "Unfortunately, there was an evil that no one could have ever seen coming."

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-- Rick Rojas

Photo: Denis Lyons. Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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