Disgraced former New Orleans priest pleads not guilty to several charges
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A former New Orleans priest remains in jail after a judge sets an $855,000 bond.
Lawrence Hecker pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning to aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated crimes against nature and theft.
This comes shortly after Lawrence Hecker’s indictment and arrest on allegations that he kidnapped, sexually abused and raped a minor while part of the clergy in New Orleans.
91-year-old Lawrence Hecker was rolled into Judge Ben Willard’s courtroom Wednesday morning, wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffed, and surrounded by sheriff’s deputies.
Hecker sat quietly and motionless, confined to his wheelchair in the far-left corner of the courtroom.
“It’s bad. I mean he’s 91 years old. You can see it. He doesn’t hear well. His brain function is a little slower,” said Bobby Hjortsberg, defense attorney for Lawrence Hecker.
The arraignment took all of fifteen minutes as Hecker pleaded not guilty in criminal court to all charges against him.
Judge Willard read aloud Hecker’s charges referencing dates in the early-mid 70s to include multiple counts of rape, kidnapping, and theft.
“These allegations are older than I am,” Hecker said.
Defense Attorney Bobby Hjortsberg argued Hecker isn’t a flight risk nor is he a danger to the community, that he would give up his passport and stay under house arrest.
Hjortsberg plans to return to the court and ask that the bond be lowered.
“A bond is not designed to detain someone before they’ve been proven guilty,” Hjortsberg said.
Hjortsberg said Hecker is receiving some additional medical attention in the jail.
Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said painting this picture of a sad, frail man is a defense tactic.
“There’s an old saying, when you don’t have the law on your side argue the facts. When you don’t have the facts argue the law. And when you don’t have neither pound the table. And it looks like he’s doing a lot of table pounding here because this doesn’t look like a good case on the merits to win so he’s working around the edges saying this fella is just too old to be put into jail,” Joe Raspanti said.
When asked if competency would play a part in this, Hjortsberg said that was not off the table.
“That’s certainly a possibility and look, all these things are important to explore and things that we may address. But that’s certainly something that’s good to point out,” Hjortsberg said.
Raspanti explained the process of declaring someone incompetent to stand trial.
“A defendant has to be able to understand what’s going on around them. Ably assist their council in their defense. If they get a psychiatrist or psychologist for example were to say he’s not able to, that could obviate this trial and it may not take place based on his alleged lack of competency,” Joe Raspanti said.
Hjortsberg said the only thing relevant to the case right now is what the district attorney’s office used to indict Hecker and what will be used against him in Willard’s courtroom.
“The prosecution will turnover what they are going to use to prosecute him. We need to have an opportunity to see what they are going to use to prosecute him. What exists out in the ethos is not relevant to us now,” Hjortsberg said.
The DA’s office chose not to comment.
Hecker’s next hearing is set for mid-October.
“What’s next is discovery. Whether that ends up being a preliminary hearing or just a documentary discovery we will find out, but the defense is entitled to find out what the state has against their client,” Joe Raspanti said.
Hjortsberg didn’t say who was paying for Hecker’s legal services.
“I’m not exactly sure who paid for it at this point,” said Hjortsberg. “[...] I’m not going to talk about his personal financial matters.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans said it is not paying legal fees for Lawrence Hecker and will continue cooperating with law enforcement.
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