A former Roman Catholic priest with ties to the Kansas City area was found guilty Thursday of plotting the death of a man who accused him of sexual abuse.
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 alleged that Fiala tried to hire a neighbor’s brother to kill the man who accused the priest of abusing him in 2008. That’s when the man was 16 and Fiala was the priest at a rural West Texas parish.
Defense attorney Rex Gunter told the jury 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 that 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.
During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors urged jurors not to believe Fiala’s claims that his actions were motivated only by fear that his own life was in danger.
“John Fiala is not a puppet,” said prosecutor Brandon Birmingham. “He is a puppeteer.”
Fiala was arrested September 2010 in Lawrence, Kan., and extradited to Edwards County, Texas, on four counts of sex crimes against children. The indictment in Edwards County is still pending.
From August 1998 until mid-2001, Fiala served as spiritual director to the SOLT (Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity) community, which maintains a religious house in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. He did not have a parish assignment in the diocese.
Fiala was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee from Aug. 31, 2001, to January 2002. He helped at a parish in Holton, Kan., from January to April 2002, according to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
No sexual abuse charges have been filed against Fiala in Kansas or Missouri.
When Fiala was charged with plotting a murder in the fall of 2010, Catholic officials on both sides of the state line said they received no complaints about Fiala when he was in the area.