Eugene priest takes stand in his own defense, denies paying teen for sex
Eugene priest Daniel MacKay took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and forcefully denied ever trying to pay for sex with a teenage prostitute.
He answered with a firm “no” or “absolutely not” each time he was directly asked about specific allegations he faces.
MacKay, 42, is charged with four misdemeanor counts of prostitution for a series of meetings he allegedly had last year with a 17-year-old girl who advertised prostitution services online. He told the four-woman, two-man jury in his trial that the allegations are untrue, and that his interactions with the teenager had nothing to do with sex.
“I responded to her as a person who needed charity and guidance,” MacKay said.
He told jurors that he first met the girl last August, when she asked him for money after approaching him outside a convenience store in the Whiteaker neighborhood where MacKay lives and works.
MacKay testified that the teenager appeared poor and homeless, and that she mentioned during her first conversation with him an interest in attending Lane Community College.
MacKay, who in addition to serving as a priest at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church taught English classes at LCC and Northwest Christian University, said he gave the girl his phone number because he was willing to help her enroll in college.
“I thought I could be a resource for her,” he said.
MacKay testified that he subsequently gave the girl money several more times, and he once rented her a motel room because she needed a place to stay.
In testimony on Friday and Monday, the alleged victim in the case said MacKay had paid her in exchange for various sex acts on four occasions last year, including once in the room MacKay rented for her.
She admitted on the witness stand that her trial testimony differed from what she told a grand jury that indicted MacKay last October. The girl said she was high on drugs when she appeared before the grand jury.
Before the state rested its case on Wednesday morning, prosecutor JoAnn Miller announced that she was dismissing five of the nine charges against MacKay. Dropped were four counts of endangering the welfare of a minor and one count of sexual misconduct. That leaves MacKay facing only the four prostitution charges.
Miller said her reason for dismissing the other charges stemmed from the alleged victim’s inability to “articulate” that MacKay knew she was younger than 18.
MacKay testified that the girl had told him she was 21. He denied having ever visited the online classified website where the teenager had posted prostitution advertisements.
MacKay and the girl exchanged text messages on a number of occasions, and authorities assert that messages in which MacKay spoke of wanting an “appointment” with the teenager indicate that he was referring to setting up a prostitution date.
“Do you understand how your text could be read to infer that you wanted a prostitution date with her in a motel room?” defense attorney Terri Wood asked her client on direct examination.
MacKay said he did understand but that he “was not meaning that at all. I meant that I wanted a chance to talk to her.”
Before MacKay’s trial began last week, prosecutors dismissed the lone felony — attempted use of a minor in the commission of a controlled substance offense — listed in the indictment. They also dismissed a prostitution charge that the girl faced, so she could testify against MacKay without incriminating herself.
The Register-Guard typically does not identify alleged crime victims.
MacKay has served as a priest at the Whiteaker neighborhood church since 2011. After his arrest, the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church announced it had suspended him from church duties pending the outcome of his criminal case and a separate investigation being conducted by church officials.
In addition to questioning her own client, Wood on Wednesday called character witnesses to testify on MacKay’s behalf. The priest’s wife, Nancy MacKay, said she has never had concerns about her husband’s fidelity and that she was aware that he had been helping a young, homeless woman last year during the same period in which the alleged crimes occurred.
Another witness, University of Oregon professor and associate dean Karen Ford, testified that she does “think (MacKay) is a truthful person” who has a strong marriage. Ford, who does not attend MacKay’s church, said she met MacKay when he enrolled in a doctoral program for English at the UO in 2001.
MacKay’s trial is expected to wrap up on Thursday.