Priest withdraws request to move rape trial

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ORD, Neb. (KSNB) - Late Monday, the attorney for a Catholic priest charged with sexual assault withdrew a request to move the trial to another county.

Fr. John Kakkuzhiyil is charged with first degree sexual assault.

He was arrested in early January after a month-long investigation by the state patrol into a claim by an Ord woman who said the priest raped her at his home in late November. Court records indicate that the woman also claims Kakkuzhiyil gave her a couple of drinks beforehand, that she blacked out, and when she awoke she was naked and the priest was performing a sex act.

Kakkuzhiyil entered a not guilty plea in Valley County District Court in Ord on February 18. Kakkuzhiyil's attorney then asked for a change of venue arguing that his client would not get a fair trial in Valley County. But that motion was withdrawn late Monday, which means any trial would be conducted in Valley County. Court records did not indicate why Kakkuzhiyil's attorney, Mark Porto of Grand Island, withdrew the request.

The trial date was pushed back from May to September ninth.

Prosecutor Kayla Clark told Local4 Tuesday they've had no discussions with the priest's attorney about a plea bargain at this time.

Kakkuzhiyil's attorney asked for the delay so that he could have more time to review evidence..

If found guilty on the felony sexual assault charge, Kakkuzhiyil could get up to 50 years in prison.

Up until late last year, Kakkuzhiyil was parish priest in Ord and Burwell.

In a statement, Grand Island Diocese Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt said he informed parishioners in Ord and Burwell December First that the priest was struggling with alcoholism and depression.

On December 6, Kakkuzhiyil entered a drug and alcohol treatment program at CHI Health St. Francis in Grand Island. Hanefeldt put Kakkuzhiyil on administrative leave December 15 when the bishop learned that the State Patrol was investigating the priest. Kakkuzhiyil was dismissed from the treatment program on Wednesday, January 2. Hanefeldt then learned that the priest had been arrested by the State Patrol.

This is the full statement from the Grand Island Diocese:

"Bishop Hanefeldt has learned today, January 2, 2019, that Fr. John Kakkuzhiyil, a priest of the Diocese of Grand Island, has been placed under arrest by the Nebraska State Patrol in Grand Island and charged with first-degree sexual assault of an adult.

Most recently Fr. Kakkuzhiyil served as pastor of our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Ord and Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Burwell. On December 1, 2018, Bishop Hanefeldt offered Mass in Ord and Burwell asking the parishioners to pray for Father Kakkuzhiyil for his continuing struggles with depression and alcoholism.

On December 6, 2018 Fr. Kakkuzhiyil entered the CHI St. Francis Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program and was dismissed from there on January 2, 2019.

When Bishop Hanefeldt learned there was an ongoing investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol regarding Fr. Kakkuzhiyil, he placed Fr. Kakkuzhiyil on administrative leave December 15, 2018. Pending the outcome of the investigation and treatment, the administrative leave remains in effect.

Court records indicate that a Valley County District Judge issued a protection order against Kakkuzhiyil after the woman reported the sexual assault.