NEWTON — A Harvey County judge shocked a packed courtroom by rejecting the plea agreement reached with former priest Robert K. Larson, instead sentencing Larson to 3 to 10 years in prison.
Larson's deal with prosecutors called for 90 days in jail and five years of probation. But Judge Ted Ice wasn't bound by the plea agreement.
"There's no question but what pain that's been caused to the victims is still going on," Ice said in pronouncing sentence. "Frankly, I cannot overlook that."
Larson buried his face in his hands as Ice sentenced him.
Larson, 71, had pleaded guilty Feb. 6 to one count of indecent liberties with a child and three counts of sexual battery. All were related to incidents between 1984 and 1986 at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton.
Larson now lives in Willoughby, Ohio. He was removed from the priesthood in 1988.
Harvey County Atty. Matt Treaster said he was pleasantly surprised at the judge's sentence.
Larson will be eligible for probation in 18 months, and Treaster said it's doubtful Larson will serve the full 10 years unless he "starts acting out" in prison or molests another child after he's paroled. Because of part of the plea agreement that's still in effect, Larson is immune from further prosecution for any incidents elsewhere in the state.
"I feel like I have been given a life sentence," Rachel Rodriguez wrote in a statement read by Treaster. "My days are long, my nights are restless and my pain never-ending."
Rodriguez's son, Robert, was one of the four victims whose complaints led to the charges. Rodriguez said two other family members her son, Gilbert, and her nephew, Paul Tafolla were victims of Larson as well. Both men committed suicide.
The family of another suicide victim, Eric Patterson, watched the proceedings quietly, occasionally wiping away tears. Afterward, Eric's father, Horace, said, "I feel about 100 pounds lighter" because of the sentence Larson received.
Larson was charged last year after some of his former altar boys went to police.
Larson's attorney, Dan Monnat, pleaded with Ice not to send Larson to prison. As a convicted child molester and a former priest, he said, Larson would be a prime target for other inmates.
Ice said he would notify the Department of Corrections that Larson is vulnerable to abuse, and the warden should respond accordingly.
Monnat said Larson, who served in the Catholic Diocese of Wichita for 30 years, tried to control his sexual urges with prayer and self-control. But his drinking problem weakened his resolve and led him to abuse boys.
When it was his turn to speak, Larson turned to face his victims and their families.
"I stand before you today a man full of shame and remorse for the wrong that I've done," he said.