Suspended Eugene priest denies paying underage prostitute for sex
For one reason or another, Eugene priest Daniel MacKay struck up a relationship last summer with a 17-year-old girl who posted prostitution advertisements online.
Lane County prosecutors say it was a typical, sexual relationship between a prostitute and a regular customer.
But MacKay’s lawyer told a jury on Friday that her client is innocent of criminal charges that accuse him of paying for sex with the girl on four separate occasions.
The defense attorney asserted that MacKay, a priest at St. John the Wonderworker Orthodox Church in the Whiteaker neighborhood, first crossed paths with the teenager when she asked him for money for cigarettes during a chance encounter at a convenience store. MacKay at that time gave the girl his phone number and told her that he worked at Lane Community College, attorney Terri Wood said.
The priest subsequently gave the teenager cash at her request several more times because he believed she was homeless, unemployed and in need of help, Wood said.
MacKay has long “embraced the duty to help those in need” and ultimately hoped to convince the girl to enroll at LCC, where he taught English classes at the time, Wood said.
“His faith calls for him to offer a hand up, not just a handout,” Wood said.
MacKay, 42, is charged with four counts of prostitution, four counts of endangering the welfare of a minor and one count of sexual misconduct. All of the charges are misdemeanors. If convicted, MacKay could be sentenced to jail.
A jury in MacKay’s trial in Lane County Circuit Court was seated late Thursday. Jurors on Friday heard attorneys’ opening statements before listening to testimony from the alleged victim in the case, who is now 18.
The alleged victim testified on direct examination from prosecutor JoAnn Miller that MacKay first paid her in exchange for sex late last summer, after she had posted online advertisements offering prostitution services.
She said that she had three subsequent sexual encounters with MacKay before Eugene police arrested her for prostitution in late September.
The alleged victim later acknowledged on cross-examination from Wood that she had lied to police about a number of things after her arrest. But she did not recant earlier testimony about having had sex with MacKay.
Prosecutors earlier this week dismissed a prostitution charge the alleged victim had faced, so that she could testify against MacKay without incriminating herself. She testified that she is, however, being held in juvenile detention on charges stemming from another case.
The Register-Guard typically does not identify alleged crime victims.
Before the alleged victim testified, Miller referred to her in an opening statement to the jury as a “kid. But she’s not just a kid. She’s a troubled kid, a street kid.”
Miller told jurors that the state’s evidence “is straightforward in this case” and that she intends to ask them to find him guilty of all nine charges.
MacKay was charged with crimes a few weeks after police took the alleged victim into custody in the prostitution case.
A Eugene police detective arrested MacKay in October after posing as the teenager and exchanging text messages with him.
Wood asserted in her opening statement that the detective, Curtis Newell, had mistakenly believed that MacKay had referenced a sex act in a text message. What the priest actually had referred to, Wood said, was a local eatery where he had previously bought lunch for the alleged victim. The message from MacKay was sent after Newell, while posing as the alleged victim, had asked the priest in a text to purchase a condom, Wood said.
MacKay has served as 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.
Wood said she expects MacKay will testify in his own defense at trial, which will resume Tuesday.
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