A former Blue Earth priest facing criminal sexual conduct charges appeared in Faribault County District Court last week for an Omnibus hearing.
Father Leo Charles Koppala, 47, was serving as a priest for Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Blue Earth and has been charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct from an incident on June 7.
It is alleged Koppala sexually touched a child while visiting a home where the child was staying.
According to county attorney Troy Timmerman, the defense did not challenge probable cause during the hearing.
"This means they conceded that the judge could make a finding that a crime was committed and that Leo Koppala committed it," Timmerman explains.
Tom Fletcher, Blue Earth chief of police, was the only individual called to the stand last Monday.
Koppala's attorney, Philip J. Elbert, wants Judge Douglas Richards to suppress the initial statement Koppala made to Fletcher.
According to Elbert, he believes Koppala did not understand the Miranda warning given to him at the time of his first meeting with chief Fletcher, so he could not have voluntarily waived his rights.
"You can still function in a community even if you don't speak the common language," Elbert explains.
Timmerman asked Fletcher about the sequence of events after his initial report implicated Koppala.
Fletcher explained how he went to the church Koppala was at after the victim had been interviewed by a social worker about the incident.
Timmerman asked Fletcher about the language which was being spoken by Koppala and others when the chief arrived.
Fletcher told Timmerman the parishioners of the church generally speak English.
According to Fletcher, he was politely waiting for the priest to finish up a conversation with members of the church.
He asked Koppala if they could speak, but Koppala explained confession was starting soon and another time would be better.
"My preference was clearly to do it at that time," Fletcher said to Timmerman.
Chief Fletcher was led to Koppala's office, where Fletcher doesn't remember if the door was open or closed after he entered.
Fletcher recalls Koppala sat down first and at no time was Koppala handcuffed or forbidden to leave.
The chief read him the Miranda rights and recorded the conversation the two had.
Chief Fletcher told Timmerman the interchange between him and Koppala was very conversational and "not aggressive or confrontational at all."
Fletcher said Koppala did admit some things.
"He told me he had kissed the victim on the lips and touched her lower back or buttocks," Fletcher says. "He did deny any sexual intentions, though."
According to Timmerman, Koppala's statements provided to Fletcher corroborated the substance of what the victim reported.
Elbert's cross-examination was more focused on the fact Fletcher was not wearing his uniform, the exact word choices and how they were phrased to Koppala. He also asked Fletcher how they were seated in the office.
Elbert questioned Fletcher if he and Koppala discussed the victim's breasts being touched.
Fletcher replied, "yes" and acknowledged that Koppala said, "That's why I do not touch, you know, breasts."
Timmerman redirected the questioning to Fletcher and asked him to continue with what the two were talking about.
"You put your hands across her chest, though," Fletcher said Koppala told him in the interview. "He indicated he did."
Elbert then pointed out when Fletcher was interviewing the priest in his office, Koppala denied touching the alleged victim's breasts.
"I think Chief Fletcher did a very fine job. His testimony established he handled a delicate situation in a professional and non-confrontational manner," Timmerman says. "The investigation he initiated preserved the victim's statement and obtained admissions from Mr. Koppala who corroborated what the victim said."
Judge Richards ruled Elbert has two weeks to submit his written final argument, due Dec. 30. Timmerman will have one week to respond, due by Jan. 6.
Judge Richards will then have the matter under advisement, according to Timmerman.
After he issues his ruling an arraignment will be set. The defendant will plead guilty or not guilty and future court will be set accordingly.