A former Blue Earth priest facing criminal sexual conduct charges pled guilty during an Omnibus hearing on March 17 in Faribault County District Court.
Father Leo Charles Koppala, 47, was serving as a priest for Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Blue Earth and had been charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct from an alleged event on June 7.
Shortly after the hearing started, Judge Douglas Richards called a recess.
Nearly three hours later, defense attorney Philip J. Elbert announced the two sides had come to an agreement.
According to county attorney Troy Timmerman, the bulk of the recess was used so the defense attorney could speak with his client through a newly appointed interpreter.
"This was the first opportunity they had to communicate through an interpreter, who was familiar with court terminology in the Tamil language," Timmerman explains. "Some time was also spent in an effort to determine what the immigration consequences of a plea of guilty would be."
As the hearing reconvened, Koppala pleaded guilty to the charge through an Alford plea, which means he does not admit the criminal act and asserts innocence, but acknowledges the evidence is such that he could be convicted of the offense by a jury.
Koppala remains free on bail, but is required to be present for sentencing on March 31 at 9 a.m.
Minnesota has certain sentencing guidelines which need to be followed, according to Timmerman.
"This is a below the line offense, meaning the judge cannot impose an executed prison sentence," Timmerman explains. This means Koppala will not be facing any additional jail time.
"Mr. Koppala's probationary term will be from zero to 25 years," Timmerman states.
According to Timmerman, after successful completion of his probationary term, his civil rights can be restored.
As a result of the plea, Koppala could also be facing deportation. However, the matter of deportation is one that will be handled through Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Timmerman.
"A state court does not have any jurisdiction or authority to address immigration matters," Timmerman says. "I anticipate he will face deportation."
The nine month case will soon be completed.
"I am glad the case is coming to an end. This sort of case can be very divisive to a community," Timmerman says. "This plea avoids that and allows everyone to move forward."