Aspiring Monks Set To Testify

Author: David Green
Date Published: 04/24/2001

Miami-Dade prosecutors, stymied in their efforts to interview key witnesses in the murder of a nun at Holy Cross Academy, subpoenaed three of the school’s Ukrainian monks-in-training to meet with them today.

The move comes as the Department of Children and Families launches its own investigation. The state agency questioned at least one of the aspiring monks last week.

State prosecutors want to question the Ukrainians about the March 25 stabbing of Sister Michelle Lewis. They also want to ask them about allegations made by the murder suspect, Mykhaylo Kofel, that the academy’s two highest-ranking officials molested him and others over a period of years.

Father Abbot Gregory Wendt and Father Damian Gibault have adamantly denied the allegations. However, neither will speak to prosecutors or police without being granted immunity.

Other investigators have found it just as difficult to gain access to the school and its personnel.

On Friday, DCF agents questioned Yosyp Lembek, 17, at the West Kendall academy, his lawyer said.

”He’s been interviewed by cops twice, and the Department of Children and Families last week,” said Lembek’s attorney, Jeanne Baker. ”He’s just a kid. He’s only been here seven months – he’s not even a witness to anything.”

Lawyers hired by the school’s insurance company denied the agents access to the three older Ukrainians, ages 18, 19 and 20.

The DCF will not confirm any investigation, saying it is not allowed by law to discuss complaints.

In the past week, Holy Cross lawyers have asked for immunity for all school personnel before allowing them to talk to authorities. By issuing subpoenas for the three student monks – who are considered material witnesses – prosecutors automatically grant them immunity.

It remains unclear whether the student monks will honor the subpoenas and meet with prosecutors today.

Lembek’s attorney said she plans to submit a motion to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Manuel Crespo asking prosecutors to reschedule Lembek’s 1 p.m. interview at the State Attorney’s Office. He is still a high school student, she said, and is not available during school hours.

”I just want to make sure everything’s done to minimize the inconvenience to him,” Baker said.

A lawyer for another student monk, Sasha Korsak, 19, also plans to file a motion before Crespo today asking to block the subpoena, those familiar with the case said. Korsak’s attorney wants to first see a copy of a statement his client gave to homicide detectives in the wake of the murder.

The subpoenas are a sign of growing frustration among prosecutors. They are trying to figure out if Kofel committed the murder in a fit of rage or if he acted in a larger climate of mistreatment and abuse.

”I’m trying to get to the truth so that this investigation can be completed,” said Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine, the lead prosecutor.

Kofel’s attorney has also been unable to gain access to the student monks.

”I’ve been denied, through their attorneys, the opportunity to interview them on a voluntary basis,” said Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi.

Prosecutors have listed the four student monks on their witness list, which was made public Monday.

Also listed were medical technicians and 22 police officers.

From the school, the list included Wendt, Gibault and other school personnel, including Sister Marie Lurz.

She lived in the house on academy grounds where Lewis was murdered.

The case dates back to March 25, when Kofel allegedly got drunk on Greek wine, broke into the nuns’ house and stabbed Lewis more than 90 times.

After his arrest, the 18-year-old Ukrainian native told detectives Wendt and Gibault sexually abused him on occasion since Wendt brought him to South Florida to study four years ago.