Former priest pleads ‘no contest’ to molestation charge
Former Pinole, Calif. priest Stephen Kiesle, 56, pleaded “no contest” to one count of molesting a minor under 14 years of age, a felony, in a pre-trial hearing held Tuesday at the Nevada County Superior Court in Truckee.
Kiesle originally faced two felony charges stemming from his molestation of a young girl at his Tahoe Donner vacation home during the summer of 1995, however, prosecutors decided to drop one of the charges because it originated from the same incident and would have carried a concurrent sentence had he been convicted on both counts.
Kiesle agreed to the no contest plea – the legal equivalent of pleading guilty – on the condition that he not be sentenced to more than six years in state prison – a mid-term sentence for this kind of offense.
The plea agreement was worked out between Kiesle’s attorney Thomas Leupp and Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Chuck O’Rourke in Judge C. Anders Holmer’s chambers Tuesday.
Kiesle will return to Judge Holmer’s courtroom for sentencing on March 2 at 1:30 p.m., where he faces a maximum of six years in state prison followed by up to five years of probation. He is currently free on bail.
If, in Kiesle’s sentencing hearing, Superior Court Judge C. Anders Holmer decides that Kiesle should be sentenced to more than six years in prison, Kiesle will have the option of withdrawing his no contest plea and proceeding to a jury trial.
Judge Holmer also advised Kiesle that he could be forced to pay restitution to the victim or the victim’s family and that there is still a possibility that Kiesle will face civil suits.
Kiesle will also have to register with local law enforcement agencies as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290 for the rest of his life.
Kiesle made headlines in June 2002 when investigators used shovels and backhoes to dig up areas around Kiesle’s Tahoe Donner vacation home in a search for human remains. Later, ground penetrating sonar was brought in to aid investigators in their search for potential burial sites, but no evidence was ever found.
The search was performed at the request of the Pinole Police Department who were investigating the disappearance of 8-year-old Amber Schwartz Garcia, who disappeared from her Pinole home in 1988. Kiesle lived down the street from Garcia at the time of her disappearance.
Currently, Kiesle also faces a civil suit filed by seven women who allege he sexually abused them while they were minors.
Kiesle left the priesthood in 1981 after pleading no contest to molesting two boys while serving at a Union City Catholic church in 1978.