Court says pastor can't testify about teen's confession

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A pastor who told police about a teenager's confession to a sexual assault cannot testify against him, the Michigan appeals court said Wednesday, ruling that such admissions between clergy and a church member are confidential.

Samuel Bragg, accompanied by his mother, spoke to the pastor of Metro Baptist Church in Belleville about the assault of a 9-year-old girl, according to prosecutors. The Rev. John Vaprezsan notified the girl's family in 2009, talked to police and was expected to be called as a witness at trial.

But the appeals court said Vaprezsan's testimony would violate a 1949 Michigan evidence rule that classifies certain admissions as confidential if clergy hear them in the context of their work.

"Once Vaprezsan convinced the defendant to speak about the sexual assault, the pastor prayed with the defendant. This was not a secular conversation," the three-judge panel said. "If Vaprezsan had not been a pastor, the communication would not have occurred."

Prosecutors said the pastor's testimony should be allowed, partly because Bragg was with his mother, a church secretary, when he talked to Vaprezsan. The appeals court, however, said the mother's presence doesn't make a difference.

In an interview, Vaprezsan said he would have "no problem" testifying about what happened in his office. He said the Baptist church doesn't restrict what can be shared with civil authorities.

"I would have a difficult time hiding something criminal, especially against children. ... I love both families involved in this. They're both dear to me. I hold no ill will toward the young man and his family. I just wish the best for him," the pastor said Wednesday.

The Wayne County prosecutor's office plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court. The trial has been on hold during the dispute over Vaprezsan's role in the case.

Published: Fri, May 11, 2012


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