Retired Orange County Priest Sentenced in Molestation Case

Denis Lyons was charged with four felony counts of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14, occurring between 1992 and 1995, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa

A retired Orange County Catholic priest was sentenced on Friday to a year in jail and five years probation for molesting an altar boy in the 1990s.

At his sentencing hearing, Denis Lyons, 78, was also sentenced to serve 400 hours of community service.

Lyons pleaded guilty March 23 to four felony counts of lewd acts on a child under 14. Had he gone to trial, he could have faced up to 14 years in prison, officials said.

Deputy District Attorney Heather Brown, who prosecuted the case, said the victim asked prosecutors to resolve the case without it having to go to trial, so as not to relive the pain from so many years ago.

"(Lyons) should probably spend the rest of his life in prison for the crimes he has committed over the past 20, 30 years," she said. "But we have to take into consideration the victim's wishes and we did that."

Lyons was arrested July 20, 2009, while playing cards at a community center near his home in Leisure World in Seal Beach.

Lyons is accused of sexually assaulting a boy on two occasions in the rectory and two different occasions in the sacristy at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Costa Mesa between 1992 and 1995, officials said. He left the priesthood in 2004.

"Today is the day I finally have closure," read a statement from the District Attorney's Office on behalf of John Doe. "I have spent the last 16 years living in pain, living in shame. He took away my innocence as a child. This man has ruined my life and many others besides me."

Police were tipped off about Lyons when a 23-year-old man came forward in 2008 to report that Lyons molested him between 1992 and 1995, when he was between 7 and 9 years old, prosecutors said.

In 2003, the DA’s office charged Lyons in connection with molestation of a boy between 1978 and 1981, in a case that was dismissed due to the statute of limitations.

The victim sued Lyons in 2008 and the diocese settled the case for an undisclosed sum.

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