by CHRIS ROGERS

A two-year-long criminal case came to an emotional end on Wednesday as Judge Mary Leahy sentenced former Winona pastor Rick Diego Iglesias, 66, to nine years in prison for the crime of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. He pleaded guilty earlier this summer to abusing a child under 16, over whom he had a position of authority, many times between 2010 and 2012. The Winona Police Department and Winona County Attorney’s Office first brought charges in September 2019 after the victim came forward.

Earlier this summer, Leahy kept open the option of probation without prison time, and at Wednesday’s sentencing hearing mental health professionals testified that Iglesias was at low risk of reoffending. However, representing the victim’s wishes, Assistant County Attorney Christina Galewski pushed for the nine-year sentence Leahy ultimately agreed to.

Leahy said Iglesias’ position as a well-respected pastor “provided a mask” that partly enabled his abuse to go unnoticed and his crime hurt the community as well as the victim. She stressed the gravity of his offense. “It didn’t happen just once or twice, but many times over a period of time,” she said. Leahy continued, “You held a position of trust, and you violated that trust.”

Earlier in the hearing, defense attorney Kurt Knuesel called as a witness Dr. Paul Reitman, a forensic psychologist specializing in risk assessments who completed a psychosexual evaluation of Iglesias. Reitman described Iglesias as deeply remorseful and highly amenable to treatment. Iglesias had no history of other offenses or ideations, he said. He noted that Iglesias’ progress reports from a sex offender treatment program were good, and Reitman and Knuesel suggested that Iglesias might actually have a harder time getting the most beneficial treatment in prison. “All in all when you look at the sea of sex offenders, he would be categorized as a person with a low likelihood to reoffend,” Reitman said. “In my opinion, he could be safely treated as he is doing now,” he added.

Knuesel drew on those comments to argue for a shorter sentence. “We have someone who did a lot of good in his life and made an extraordinarily terrible choice over a period of time and is now doing his level best to make up for that,” Knuesel said. He asked the court for a one-year sentence, split up into 30-day stints over 12 years.

In her cross examination of Reitman, Galewski highlighted a portion of his evaluation that noted during an exercise on how Iglesias might apologize to the victim, Reitman reported that “[Iglesias’] apology was unwittingly primarily focused on himself.”

Galewski reminded the court of the victim. Noting privacy concerns, she said, “In some ways, the state is limited in what it can say to truly convey the magnitude of the harm.” Galewski told the court, “It was a breach of trust beyond description, the deepest breach of trust.” As for Iglesias’ remorse, she continued, “The sexual assault did not just happen one time … The defendant did not feel so remorseful the first time it happened. He did it over and over again.”

As she announced her decision, Leahy ended with a message for the victim, quoting A.A. Milne. While a huge piece of the victim’s childhood was stolen, Leahy said, “You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

In the gallery, onlookers wept. The bailiff took Iglesias into custody.

Chris@winonapost.com