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Claims of sexual abuse by former Southside priest results in calls to stay execution

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

A young Humberto Leal (left) with Sister Maria and his brother at St. Clare’s church.

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Leal’s first communion certificate, signed by Federico Fernandez


According to Lisak, however, delayed outcry is actually normal in cases of sexual abuse. “Especially for men who are sexually abused, it’s common for them to deny it and hide it for a long period of time, and often times they never disclose it.”

Further complicating matters is the fact that Leal, a Mexican national on death row, was denied access to his consulate during the initial trial and punishment phase of his case, a violation of a crucial international convention the U.S. relies on. His case has become embroiled in an international controversy U.S. officials are still trying to iron out.

In conjunction with his clemency petition last week, a wide range of former U.S. diplomats, retired military leaders, and other high-level officials urged Texas to stay Leal’s execution while Congress works on a legislative fix that would have Leal’s case reviewed, in line with the wishes of the International Court of Justice at the Hague. On Tuesday U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont introduced a bill that would require a federal review of the outstanding controversial death penalty cases, and Babcock argues that the review would give her the opportunity to present what she calls glaring errors in the case against Leal.

Babcock also claims Leal’s initial defense was hopelessly deficient, and says these claims of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest could have persuaded jurors away from the death penalty.

Valdez said the DA’s office still would not be able to bring a case against Father Fernandez for the alleged assault against Leal, regardless of how true the claims may be. Though Texas abolished any statute of limitation on sexual abuse of a child cases in 2007, the statute applicable at the time of Leal’s alleged abuse rules out any prosecution of his specific case today, Valdez said.

“I think the larger point is that an investigation is warranted to determine just how many children were victimized and to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the abuse – including the age of the victims – before concluding that a prosecution is impossible,” Babcock wrote in an email. Within just two weeks of searching, Babcock’s investigator found four more victims who claimed Fernandez sexually abused them – victims who had never before come forward.

“If we found that many within such a short time, it seems highly likely to us that there are many others out there we don’t know about,” she said. •

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