Dallas A former Roman Catholic priest was found guilty Thursday of plotting the death of a man who accused him of sexual abuse.
The Dallas Morning News reported the Dallas County jury returned its verdict on John M. Fiala after a few hours’ deliberation.
After the verdict, testimony began in the penalty phase. Fiala could be sentenced to up to life in prison for solicitation of capital murder.
Prosecutors say Fiala tried to hire a neighbor’s brother to kill the man who accused him of abusing him in 2008. That’s when the man was 16 and Fiala was the priest at a rural West Texas parish.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors urged jurors not to believe Fiala’s claims that he told a purported hit man to kill his accuser only because he thought his own life was in danger.
“John Fiala is not a puppet,” said prosecutor Brandon Birmingham said. “He is a puppeteer.”
Defense attorney Rex Gunter countered that Fiala had no true intentions of having his accuser killed.
Fiala testified earlier Thursday that he was told by his neighbor, Scottie Fisher, that the neighbor’s brother would likely turn on him if he wasn’t convinced the hit was on.
“I knew that if I didn’t do this, I’d be the one on the list, marked to be killed, according to what Scottie said,” Fiala said.
But the man Fiala met with in November 2010 and instructed to kill his accuser for $5,000 was actually an undercover police officer. Their entire conversation was recorded on video and played for the jury on Wednesday.
Fiala was arrested September 2010 in Lawrence, Kan., and extradited to Edwards County, Texas, on four counts of sex crimes against children two years after he was removed from the priesthood. The indictment in Edwards County is still pending.
From 2001 to 2002, Fiala served as a priest at parishes in Shawnee and Holton, Kan., which are in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan.
He was also the spiritual director for a religious order’s house from 1998 to 2001 in Kansas City, Mo., but did not have a parish assignment with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.
No sexual abuse charges have been filed against Fiala in Kansas or Missouri.