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Priest pleads innocent to sex charge

June 8, 2002

Randy Kenner, News-Sentinel staff writer   

A Catholic priest accused of the sexual battery of a young man pleaded innocent through his lawyer to the charge Friday in Knox County Criminal Court.

Stephen Charles LaPrad, a 52-year-old priest who ministered at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Lenoir City, was arraigned before Criminal Court Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz during a brief hearing.

Leibowitz set a March 3, 2003, trial date for LaPrad.

His attorney, David M. Eldridge of Knoxville, told the judge he anticipates the trial would last two days.

LaPrad was indicted by a Knox County grand jury in late April for allegedly having unlawful contact with a young man last November at a health club in Knoxville.

It is silent as to the specifics of the incident but states that LaPrad "did unlawfully, forcefully and by force and coercion have sexual contact."

The victim's age was not given, but the indictment lists him as being in the care of another person of the same last name.

LaPrad denied in a statement released by his attorney last month that he had any criminal contact with the young man and indicated then he would contest the charge.

"Steve LaPrad does not deny that an incident occurred," Eldridge said at the time. "He states that at the moment this occurred, he believed that it was an encounter in which both men were interested."

LaPrad informed officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville what had happened during a Nov. 18, 2001, meeting. He was subsequently placed on administrative leave.

The charge became public in early May in a diocese that had earlier been stunned to learn in March that its founder, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, had admitted to sexual misconduct involving at least one minor before arriving in Knoxville in 1988.

LaPrad is free on bond.

The sexual battery charge carries a sentence of one to two years in prison.

Randy Kenner may be reached at 865-342-6305 or