by Angie Asam–Staff Writer
Trial began Tuesday afternoon and continued Thursday in 53rd Circuit Court in case of the people of the state of Michigan v. the Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka. The first witness called to the stand was the alleged victim in the matter, who testified Tuesday afternoon. Obwaka is expected to testify as soon as Thursday.
Around 4 p.m. Tuesday the Honorable Judge Scott L. Pavlich released the jury for the evening after council needed time to argue on an objection under the rape-shield act. Prosecuting attorney Ken Radzibon finished his direct examination of the alleged victim around 3:45 p.m. when defense council Dan White took over. White had raised a question regarding the alleged victim’s sexual orientation, which was objected to by Radzibon under the rape-shield act.
Pavlich dismissed the jury to their chambers to allow the attorneys to try to sort the matter out. The rape shield law typically applies to women who are sexually assaulted and provided little guidance in the matter at hand. Neither side had case law to present to the argument at the time it came up. Pavlich instructed council they had until 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to present their argument.
Obwaka, a priest at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Rogers City, is being charged with criminal sexual conduct (CSC) first degree causing personal injury and CSC third degree using force or coercion. Both charges are felonies and both allegedly involved a male victim, another priest, 28. He has been placed on administrative leave.
The alleged incident occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 1 and was reported to the Michigan State Police Feb. 17.
Trial began at approximately 1:45 Tuesday afternoon with both sides making their opening arguments, which are not evidence in the case. The prosecution argued that the act was forced while the defense is putting together a case to show that it was a consensual sex act between two adult males.
The jury watched a video deposition of The Most Rev. Steven J. Raica, Bishop of Gaylord where attorneys asked him questions regarding his interview with Obwaka.
FOURTEEN MEMBERS of the community are serving as jurors after jury selection was held Tuesday morning. Jury selection was held at Belknap Township Hall, to accommodate the panel of more than 100 prospective jurors.
Twenty-seven other people were on the jury at one time but were dismissed for one reason or another by council or the judge. Jury selection began at 9 a.m. and was concluded at 11:50 a.m.
When all the testimony from the alleged victim, Catholic Human Services counselor Larry LaCross, Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord Steven Raica, Dr. Jason Beatty as well as Obwaka himself has been heard, the jury will be slimmed down to 12 members and deliberation will begin. The jury must render a verdict that all 12 jurors agree on. The prosecution has the burden of proof, to prove all elements of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
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(The Advance will update this story after testimony Thursday, July 21)