Louisville priest appealing 7-year prison sentence, saying there was 'no intent to abuse' 10-year-old victim

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Fr. Joseph Hemmerle, convicted of abusing a boy in the 1970s, is appealing to three judges to reconsider his case.

Michael Norris testified during the 2016 trial that when he was 10 years old, Hemmerle sexually abused him while he attended Camp Tall Trees in 1973. Norris said he had poison ivy, and when Hemmerle offered to treat it in private, Norris said Hemmerle sexually abused him instead. Norris said he never had poison ivy on his genitals, so there was no reason for Hemmerle to touch Norris’ genitals or for Hemmerle to put his mouth on Norris’ genitals.

In 2016, Hemmerle was tried on two different charges of abuse: carnal abuse and indecent or immoral practices. Since the victim said the abuse happened in the 1970s, the language of the law is different from what would be today’s charges of sodomy and sexual abuse.

At trial, Hemmerle testified he would apply lotion to the genitals of child campers for poison ivy, but he denied ever abusing any children.

The jury, in 2016, found Hemmerle not guilty of carnal abuse but guilty of indecent or immortal practices by inappropriately touching Norris. The judge sentenced Hemmerle to seven years in prison. Then in December 2017, after less than a year behind bars, Hemmerle’s request for parole was denied.

On Tuesday afternoon, Hemmerle’s attorney, David Lambertus, presented his case for appeal. Lambertus argued Hemmerle never performed an indecent act on the victim, that there was no intent to abuse the victim, that the verdicts were inconsistent, that the jury was given inconsistent instructions and that the two counts did not differentiate and needed to be merged.

Hemmerle’s attorney told the judges that like a doctor has to touch, poke or prod a patient, Hemmerle had to touch the children in order to treat their poison ivy. He said the commonwealth failed during the trial to prove there was any intent to abuse, so there was no crime.

The commonwealth argued intent is not an element of the crime and that the jury found Hemmerle guilty because there was sufficient evidence.

The judges will come to a decision on the appeal in the next few weeks. Depending on the results, either side can make one final appeal after that.

Hemmerle was sentenced to seven years in prison for this case but is sentenced to a total of nine years. A different case with a different victim was to follow after Norris’ case in 2017, but Hemmerle signed an Alford Plea, and a judge added another two years in prison for that case.

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