DALLAS — A Texas jury has sentenced an Omaha native who had served as a priest in Nebraska to 60 years in prison for plotting the death of a Texas man who accused him of sexual abuse.
Prosecutors had asked jurors for a life sentence for John M. Fiala, 53. His alleged rape at gunpoint of a 16-year-old youth in 2007 and 2008 and subsequent conspiracy to have the accuser murdered occurred in Texas after Fiala had left Nebraska and the Archdiocese of Omaha. Fiala's defense attorney had said any sentence longer than 15 years would be a “travesty.”
Fiala, who was removed from his priestly duties in the fall of 2008, will be eligible for parole after 15 years. Fiala was convicted May 17 for solicitation of capital murder.
Prosecutors said Fiala tried to hire a neighbor's brother to kill the man who accused him of abuse in 2008 when Fiala was the priest at a rural West Texas parish.
Defense attorney Rex Gunter said Fiala had no true intention of having his accuser killed.
The Dallas County jury returned its verdict on Fiala after a few hours of deliberation.
During closing arguments, prosecutors urged jurors not to believe Fiala's claims that he told a purported hit man to kill his accuser only because he thought his own life was in danger.
“John Fiala is not a puppet,” said prosecutor Brandon Birmingham. “He is a puppeteer.”
Fiala had testified that he was told by his neighbor, Scottie Fisher, that the neighbor's brother would likely turn on him if he wasn't convinced the hit was on.
“I knew that if I didn't do this, I'd be the one on the list, marked to be killed, according to what Scottie said,” Fiala said.
But the man Fiala met with in November 2010 and instructed to kill his accuser for $5,000 was an undercover police officer. Their conversation was recorded on video and played for the jury at Fiala's trial.
Fiala still faces charges in Edwards County, Texas, of aggravated sexual assault of a child. That abuse is alleged to have occurred in 2007 and 2008, when Fiala was serving in Rocksprings, Texas, which is in the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Fiala was arrested by U.S. marshals in September 2010 in Lawrence, Kan.
Fiala was ordained in Omaha in 1984 and ministered in the Omaha Archdiocese until 1996, when he left to join the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity in Texas.
In 2010, the Omaha Archdiocese paid an undisclosed amount to settle a civil lawsuit with an alleged victim of Fiala's. The man had accused the archdiocese of covering up sexual abuse of minors by Fiala. The archdiocese has said it settled “because it was not clear that all appropriate information was shared when Fiala left the archdiocese.”
In the spring of 2002, the Omaha Archdiocese received a complaint that Fiala had attempted to sexually abuse a minor in the 1980s. The minor was able to rebuff the priest, the archdiocese has said.
The archdiocese said it notified the Sarpy County Attorney's Office and Fiala's religious superior in Texas, as well as the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., where Fiala was serving at the time.
No charge was filed.