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    Judge refuses to lower bail for accused priest

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 15, 2002

    LARGO -- A Pinellas-Pasco judge refused on Friday to lower the $500,000 bail set for a Catholic priest extradited to Florida this week to faces charges that he sexually assaulted two 11-year-olds in the mid 1980s.

    As Circuit Judge Brandt Downey announced his decision, alleged victims of the Rev. Robert L. Schaeufele applauded.

    Schaeufele's attorney, Debora Moss, asked for a bail reduction during the priest's brief first appearance in court. She said he was no threat to flee and has long ties to the community.

    "He is not a man of means," Moss said, explaining that Schaeufele could not meet the current bail.

    Moss said she had offered to prosecutors before her client's arrest by police in a Detroit suburb on May 31 that he would voluntarily return to Florida to turn himself in. That indicates, she said, he was no flight risk.

    But prosecutor Jim Hellickson told the judge that Schaeufele, who is charged with two counts of capital sexual battery, faces life in prison without parole if he is convicted. And prosecutors are considering additional capital sexual battery charges, based on reports by additional victims, he said.

    "Based on the nature of these charges, we think the bond is reasonable," Hellickson said.

    Downey left the bail at $500,000 without comment.

    Schaeufele has the option of seeking a full bail hearing next week, at which his attorney may present witnesses.

    Schaeufele, 54, watched the proceedings from the Pinellas County Jail via a video hookup and did not appear to react to the judge's decision.

    About four or five of Schaeufele's alleged victims, who are now adults, appeared in court and, through their attorney, declined to comment. They met with prosecutors after the hearing.

    "They want to make sure that Father Schaeufele never abuses another child," said their attorney, Joseph H. Saunders.

    Schaeufele served nearly 30 years in the Diocese of St. Petersburg before he resigned from a church in Pasco County in mid April after being confronted with abuse allegations.

    He was the first priest in the Tampa Bay area to be charged with sexual abuse since a national scandal engulfed the church earlier this year.

    Schaeufele is accused of assaulting two boys while he served at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Pinellas Park from 1983 to 1985.

    Saunders said he has talked to nine people who say that the priest assaulted them.

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