Eugene priest gets 90-day sentence for paying teen for sex
In a courtroom packed with his supporters — many of whom wrote letters to a judge pleading for leniency — a Eugene priest on Thursday maintained his innocence before being sentenced to jail for paying for sex with an underage girl.
Lane County Circuit Judge Karrie McIntyre imposed the 90-day jail sentence in Daniel MacKay’s case. She told the priest that evidence supported a jury’s guilty verdict and that he owes an apology to the 83 people who wrote her letters of support in recent days “for not disclosing the true circumstances to them.”
McIntyre said sex trafficking is widespread locally thanks to customer demand, and she plainly recounted in court the conduct that MacKay was found to have committed last summer during a series of meetings with a then-17-year-old girl who had posted online prostitution advertisements.
“You paid for sex with a youth who had no money, no food, no place to stay and no family resources,” McIntyre told MacKay, who had said minutes earlier in court that he “did not do those things at all.”
“Your statements here today show a lack of accountability for your actions,” the judge told the priest, who is expected to lose his position at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in the Whiteaker area as a result of his convictions.
MacKay’s attorney, Terri Wood of Eugene, mentioned in court that her client is considering an appeal.
The jury in MacKay’s case found him guilty last week of three misdemeanor counts of prostitution after hearing trial testimony from the priest and the teenager, who said MacKay had paid her for sex acts on several occasions last summer.
MacKay, 42, asserted on the witness stand and again during his sentencing hearing that the allegations were untrue, that he had given the girl money on multiple occasions because she needed help, and that it was in line with the assistance he says he has long provided homeless people in his neighborhood.
“I would like to apologize for putting myself in this position by not at all times having a witness with me when I worked with (the teenager),” MacKay said Thursday in court. He charged that prosecutor JoAnn Miller was able to “manipulate” the circumstances and gain a conviction.
“There has been a great turning and twisting of words,” he said.
MacKay apparently was referring to text message exchanges between him and the girl, as well as with an undercover Eugene police detective who arrested him after exchanging texts with him while posing as the teen.
In one of the exchanges with the detective, MacKay said he and the girl should “do it BB” after the detective had asked the priest to purchase a condom. MacKay testified that he wasn’t responding to the question and that “BB” referred to Burrito Boy, an eatery where he and the teenager had previously gone together. But the detective, Curtis Newell, testified at trial that “BB” is used as slang in the prostitution trade for “bareback,” which means sex without a condom.
Miller pointed out Thursday in court that MacKay had also allegedly sent text messages to the girl requesting that she get him some “blow,” or cocaine.
“(MacKay) understands the language of the trade,” Miller said. “It’s clear there’s no misunderstanding.”
MacKay was indicted on a felony charge of attempting to use a minor in a controlled substance offense, but Miller dismissed that charge before his trial began. The defense had prepared hair follicle testing that indicated MacKay had not used any illegal drugs over the past year and a half, Wood said Thursday in court.
Wood asked McIntyre to sentence MacKay to probation. Miller, meanwhile, sought a one-year jail sentence for the priest, who also taught English at Lane Community College and Northwest Christian University in Eugene before his arrest.
LCC officials said MacKay remains on paid administrative leave but that his employment status will be reviewed after a formal judgment is entered in his case. An NCU spokesman, meanwhile, said MacKay was placed on unpaid leave in October but no longer works for the university. The spokesman, Pat Walsh, declined to release additional details about MacKay’s employment.
Two other religious leaders spoke in court Thursday in support of MacKay. One of them, Abbot Tryphon of the All-Merciful Saviour Monastery in Washington state, said he and MacKay are “kindred spirits” who both have served as priests and teachers.
He said he has spoken with a number of other clergy in the Northwest, and “not one of them believes (MacKay) is guilty.” He then gestured to the rows of courtroom benches filled with MacKay’s supporters.
“We’re not ganging up on anyone,” he said. “We’ve come here together because we love this man.”
He added that while he believes in the legal system, he also thinks that Christian clergy receive “a bad rap” because of a rash of sexual abuse cases involving some leaders in the Roman Catholic Church over many decades. He said Christian Orthodox churches have “a system of checks and balances” that promotes accountability, and that if a church learns of a criminal allegation involving clergy, he or she is suspended until an investigation is completed.
“We take this seriously,” he said, adding that MacKay’s career is “completely destroyed.”
MacKay was suspended from church duties after his arrest in October. His biography, however, still appeared Thursday on his church’s website, and church officials did not immediately return a telephone message seeking information about MacKay’s status.
Also speaking in court Thursday in support of MacKay was Jerry Markopoulos, a priest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Eugene. He called MacKay “a true good Samaritan” and “a selfless person” who never turns “a blind eye to someone in need.”
Markopoulos said that seeing MacKay help others over their 10-year friendship has “led me to never doubt his sincerity, and never doubt that his motivation was love for other people.”
McIntyre, however, concluded — as the jury did — that MacKay had committed crimes in his dealings with the teenager.
She sentenced the priest to 90 days in jail, but said he would be eligible to serve 60 days of that time in an alternative program such as community service. She also ordered him to serve probation, complete any treatment ordered by his probation officer and also attend a “sex buyer accountability class” that is offered in some Oregon courts.
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