Prosecutor vows to try ‘on a gurney’ 92-year-old Louisiana priest accused of rape

Courtroom CNA credit tglegend shutterstock Credit: tglegend/Shutterstock

A New Orleans priest accused of choking and raping a teenager in the 1970s is too sick to attend his own trial, his lawyers are claiming, though state prosecutors are vowing to bring him into the courtroom on a hospital stretcher in order to allow the trial to continue.

Lawrence Hecker was indicted on charges of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, an aggravated crime against nature, and theft by an Orleans Parish special grand jury in September of last year. 

The sex abuse crimes are alleged to have occurred between Jan. 1, 1975, and Dec. 31, 1976, according to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office

Hecker’s trial is scheduled for March 25. At a pretrial hearing this week, his attorneys claimed that the 92-year-old clergyman was too sick to stand trial, reportedly slipping “in and out of consciousness” while incarcerated in a medical facility. 

Prosecutors have vowed to proceed with Hecker’s trial regardless. Orleans Parish First Assistant District Attorney Ned McGowan promised at the hearing to “roll him in on a gurney” to try him, according to local media.

“Mr. Hecker was conscious and, in some respect, resting comfortably,” McGowan told Judge Ben Willard, according to reports. “The defense has not raised mental competency issues and if they wish to do so, we will need to convene a panel very quickly.” 

Hecker’s defense attorney Bobby Hjortsberg, meanwhile, suggested at the hearing that the priest was a “vegetable,” though he later clarified that medical records did not indicate as much. 

Neither the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office nor Hjortsberg responded to queries from CNA about Hecker’s medical state and his looming trial.

The Guardian reported in June 2023 that in 1999, Hecker admitted to sexual misconduct with seven teenage boys between 1966 and 1979 but was allowed to remain in ministry until his retirement in March 2002. 

The report noted that he was sent to a psychiatric treatment facility that diagnosed him with pedophilia after his confession but was not removed from ministry. 

“I had thought I had buried this part of my life and would only think about it to remind myself not to have anything like this happen again,” Hecker’s 1999 confession read in part, according to the Guardian. 

“I have made it a point not to be alone with anyone under 18, and if possible not to be alone with anyone — and certainly not to hold anyone, except for a ‘holy hug,’” he reportedly wrote.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans lists Hecker as among the priests who “are alive and have been accused of sexually abusing a minor which led to their removal from ministry.”

The archdiocesan website says it received allegations against Hecker in 1996 and removed him from ministry in 2002. 

The Archdiocese of New Orleans announced in May 2020 that its administrative offices were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, citing financial pressure from clerical abuse litigation compounded by the coronavirus crisis.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.