Priest sentenced in child pornography case

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The Rev. David F. Dzermejko, whose priestly activities were suspended following the emergence of abuse allegations in 2009, was sentenced Friday to three years in prison for possession of child pornography.

The sentence by U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer -- which was five months below the prison terms recommended by federal guidelines -- came after a two-hour hearing featuring the emotional testimony of an alleged victim's brother, and a denial by Dzermejko of any personal abuse of children.

"Your honor, I stand before you with deep remorse and a sincere regret for any crime I have committed and I throw myself at the mercy of this court," Dzermejko said, shaking visibly.

The FBI and Allegheny County district attorney caught Dzermejko, 65, of Braddock, with more than 100 images of child pornography in 2013.

Dzermejko had been on administrative leave from active priestly duties since June 2009, "when the first of three allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a minor was received," wrote the Rev. Ron Lengwin, vicar general for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Likely within a week, the diocese will submit the information to the Vatican, which can formally dismiss Dzermejko from the priesthood, he said.

One of Dzermejko's accusers committed suicide in 2009, said Michael Klein, that accuser's brother, who came to the sentencing hearing from his home in Mason, Ohio.

Mr. Klein referenced the children in the images.

"Where are the children that these crimes were perpetrated against?" Mr. Klein said to Judge Fischer. "Who will protect them, comfort them, console them?"

He then talked about his brother's accusations, at times reading from what he said was a journal.

"Imagine you're a 12-year-old and you're a student," Mr. Klein said, invoking a visit to a church carnival. "But then you end up on a Ferris wheel with David Dzermejko. ... 'Three complete rides. Nothing I could do to get off the ride. I was trapped. ... How he made me touch him, the smell, and the look in his eyes.' "

Mr. Klein said that his brother "wanted nothing more than to rid himself of the nightmares, the pain, the anxiety."

Dzermejko said that the accuser put those events between 1974 and 1976 at St. Teresa of Avila in Ross, but noted that he didn't serve there until 1979.

"I sincerely extend my deepest and sincere sympathy to the family and friends of [the accuser,]" Dzermejko said. "At the same time, I firmly deny [the accusations], and attest that I did not know him and never met him."

His attorney, John Knorr, argued that Dzermejko was so sick from various ailments that a prison term "which essentially amounts to a sentence for the remainder of this defendant's life crosses over the boundary from justice to excessive cruelty."

Assistant U.S. attorney Carolyn Bloch countered that Dzermejko "still takes care of himself."

She also noted that his role as priest "placed him in a unique position to have access to children and to have the untethered trust" of the parents.

Judge Fischer gave Dzermejko until June 6 to report to prison.

After his release from prison, Dzermejko faces 12 years of probation. He also must forfeit his laptop, personal computer, cell phone and a storage device. After release, he is to have no unsupervised contact with children.


Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published April 25, 2014 5:09 PM


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