It’s been 20 years since Leisure World resident and former priest Denis Lyons began molesting a nine-year-old altar boy at his Costa Mesa parish St. John the Baptist Church.
Since that time, the sexual abuse scandal rocked the Catholic Church, and laws were changed to free victims from the narrow window that the statute of limitations placed on child sex crimes. Lyons’ story reverberates the church wide scandal, the legal evolution and the private saga of the former altar boys who accuse him of molestation.
Looking every bit his 78 years, Lyons sat in an empty 11th floor courtroom Friday morning. His hands crossed, his eyes downcast, Lyons waited to hear his sentence while listening to attorneys chatter about murder, torture and drug cases. Wearing blue slacks and a sports coat, he shuffled back and forth to the bathroom while waiting for his sentencing, but it was postponed until August when an official psychiatric evaluation can be submitted to complete the case.
Lyons was scheduled to be sentenced for molesting a boy in the church rectory for years between 1992 and 1995. He faces a year in jail, having pleaded guilty to four counts of molestation in a deal that spares him a trial and the specter of 14 years in prison if convicted by a jury.
This isn’t the first time Lyons has avoided a trial.
Lyons was put on leave from the church in 2002 and was charged in 2003 with molesting another boy in 1979, but he couldn't be prosecuted because the case was too old, according to a Supreme Court ruling.
Because of the Supreme Court ruling, any molestation allegations from prior to 1988 are too old to try. However, a 1994 law passed waiving the six-year statute of limitations for victims of child molestation from then on.
It wasn’t until 2008 when his victim from the early 1990s sued Lyons for the abuse that a new case was made against Lyons. This time the charges stuck, but no one wanted to go through a public trial.
``The victim has asked to resolve this case without going through a highly publicized trial,'' Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown told the judge. Another alleged victim, who Lyons was not charged with molesting, was willing to testify to corroborate the named victim's testimony, but he also wanted to avoid a jury trial, Brown said.
``I'm pleased he (Lyons) finally accepted responsibility so that the victims can put this behind them and find some peace,'' Brown said after the plea agreement was reached.
-City News Service Contributed to this report.