Priest convicted of inappropriate touching sentenced

Local priest gets 7 years for inappropriate touching
Updated: Feb. 9, 2017 at 4:19 PM EST
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Michael Norris (Source: James Thomas, WAVE 3 News)
Michael Norris (Source: James Thomas, WAVE 3 News)
Jeffrey Frazier (Source: James Thomas, WAVE 3 News)
Jeffrey Frazier (Source: James Thomas, WAVE 3 News)

BRANDENBURG, KY (WAVE) - A Louisville priest has been sentenced to serve seven years in prison after being convicted on a sexual abuse charge.

Fr. Joseph Hemmerle was director and camp counselor for Camp Tall Trees in Meade County for 30 years. In November, Hemmerle was acquitted on one charge of engaging in a sexual act but was found guilty on a count of inappropriate touching.

Michael Norris said he was molested by Hemmerle 43 years ago while attending Camp Tall Trees Summer Camp. Norris said he got a bad case of poison ivy and Hemmerle told him he could help. Norris visited Hemmerle's cabin where he said he was later abused.

"This guy needs to be behind bars," Norris said. "Unfortunately, I've been living with this for 43 years, so it's good to see him finally pay for what he did to me."

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Before the judge made his ruling, Norris, his wife, and his sister, took the stand for final testimony. Norris shared an emotional life story. His family shared how his traumatic experiences have hurt their entire family.

"I will spend the rest of my life dealing with it," Norris said. "He's a sheep in wolf's clothing like my sister said."

Norris asked the judge to increase the jury's recommendation by three years in prison. The judge said he could not lawfully do that. However, the sentence given was the recommendation of the jury, seven years in prison. A request for Hemmerle to receive probation was denied. The judge backed his decision by stating he fears Hemmerle is a flight risk because he is expected back in court on similar charged in April. The judge also denied his motion to appeal.

Even after the jury found him guilty on indecent or immoral practices with a child under 15, Hemmerle still maintained his innocence before the judge.

"I state, again under oath, I'm innocent of all these charges," Hemmerle said.

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Hemmerle had several rows of people in his corner, too.

"It's hard to hear, without a doubt, knowing it's untrue," Jeffery Frazier said.

Frazier was a camper at Camp Tall Trees decades ago and said he's been friends with Hemmerle for years.

"Look, what he's found guilty of is putting calamine lotion on a camper for medicinal reasons," Frazier said. "For that, he's going to spend seven years in prison and that is just not fair."

The sexual abuse allegation Hemmerle was convicted of was brought in 2001 by Norris. No charges were filed against Hemmerle then, but he was reassigned after an internal investigation by the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Hemmerle is still facing seven charges from allegations in 2014. That trial is scheduled to start in April.

Officials with the Archdiocese of Louisville said the process to remove Hemmerle from the priesthood will not start until after his second trial is completed. That decision was made to ensure that their report to the Vatican is complete.

Hemmerle, who has had previous assignments at several Louisville churches, has been placed on administrative leave and asked not to present himself as a priest.

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