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Spotlight Report

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Haverhill priest convicted of rape of teenage girl

Authorities say Catholic church was cooperative

By Caroline Louise Cole, Globe Correspondent, 6/21/2003

LAWRENCE -- A Lawrence Superior Court jury yesterday found a Haverhill priest guilty of raping a 15-year girl during a series of sexual assaults which took place three years ago in a church rectory while the victim worked as a part-time secretary in his parish.

The Rev. Kelvin Iguabita, 34, who is on administrative leave from his post as the junior priest at All Saints Catholic Church, was immediately taken from the courtroom in shackles and transported to the Middleton Jail.

Iguabita is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27 by Lawrence Superior Court Judge Richard Welch , according to Stephen F. O'Connell , spokesman for the Essex District Attorney's office.

Iguabita was found guilty of four of the five counts against him: child rape, two counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over age 14, and unnatural acts with a child. He was acquitted of a fifth charge of assault with intent to rape.

O'Connell said the most serious charge, rape of a child, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said now that Iguabita has been found guilty by a criminal court ''the archdiocese will follow the canonical procedures that were established this year and will seek to determine church penalties beyond administrative leave.''

The victim, whose name is being witheld to protect her privacy, testified that she was a shy and naive young woman when her parents urged her to take the rectory position because they considered it a ''safe'' environment.

Now 18, she said that Rev. Iguabita won her confidence and then took advantage of her while the two were alone on a series of Saturday afternoons beginning in the summer of 2000. She said she did not initially report the priest's sexual advances because he was so well liked and she did not think anyone would believe her.

Iguabita, a native of Colombia, graduated from St. John's Seminary in Boston in June of 1999, Coyne said. Iguabita was recruited as part of a special training program aimed at providing Spanish-speaking priests to local Hispanic communities. His posting in Haverhill was his first, Coyne noted.

''Our hearts and prayers go out to the victim in this case,'' Coyne said. ''We admire her courage and stand ready to help her and her family in whatever way we can. The church cooperated fully in the investigation.''

Assistant District Attorney Kristen Buxton said she was satisfied with the verdict.

''This was a difficult but compelling case and it had a huge impact on the community,'' Buxton said through O'Connell.

Iguabita's attorney, Martin Leppo of Randolph said he will file a motion for a new trial and for acquittal because he believed the jury erred by ignoring testimony allegedly placing his client at a wedding on a day the victim said he raped her.

Iguabita faces another trial on charges of indecent assault on a Rockport woman on two occasions in 1997 and 1998.

Caroline Louise Cole can be reached at Cole@Globe.com.

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 6/21/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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