March 15, 2013 11:32:00 PM
By Rob Parsons/A-D Reporter

The attorney for a Catholic priest accused of kissing a 16-year-old Yuba City girl called the incident a "witch hunt" on Friday, while prosecutors said the clergyman knows he violated the law.

The Rev. Julio Cesar Guarin-Sosa, 43, of Colombia is charged with a felony count of false imprisonment and misdemeanor counts of annoying or molesting a minor and sexual battery in connection with a March 8 incident in Yuba City.

Sutter County Judge Susan E. Green entered not-guilty pleas on Guarin-Sosa's behalf on Friday.

"This case is a witch hunt, your honor," defense attorney Markus Dombois said. "The conduct may be inappropriate in this country, but it may be an everyday occurrence in his country."

Jacquelyn Stenson, deputy Sutter County district attorney, countered, saying Guarin-Sosa apologized to the girl during a subsequent telephone conversation and asked her not to say anything because "it would ruin his life."

"He knew something he'd done was wrong," Stenson said.

She declined to say who initiated the phone call or whether the conversation was recorded.

Guarin-Sosa was held at the Sutter County Jail without bail on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold for illegal entry, a charge his attorney said was baseless. He surrendered his passport and travel visa, which showed he entered the United States as a legal visitor on Dec. 27. The visa expires June 26, Dombois said.

The teenager's family invited Guarin-Sosa to their Yuba City home to celebrate Mass. During the visit, the priest was asked to console the teenager, whom Dombois said was distraught. The priest and teenager were alone in a room when the alleged abuse occurred, authorities said.

Police investigators initially sought a felony count of sexual battery, and Guarin-Sosa's bail was set at $250,000 based on that allegation. Prosecutors, however, filed the sex charges as misdemeanors and added a felony count of false imprisonment, warranting a lower bail.

Green set bail at $75,000, saying she wanted to ensure the priest, who has no ties to Sutter County, would not flee during criminal proceedings.

A Sutter County bail report describes Guarin-Sosa as "very evasive" under questioning. The report says the girl's mother wants the priest to remain behind bars.

She said "her daughter has been severely impacted by this incident and is afraid of the defendant. (The mother) advised her daughter is struggling as a result of the defendant's alleged actions," the report says.

The report also calls Guarin-Sosa a flight risk.

As part of his bail-reduction argument, Dombois submitted nearly 200 letters of support he said spoke to the priest's character. Stenson noted most of the letters were written by people who had known Guarin-Sosa less than a month.

Guarin-Sosa's only prior contact with California law enforcement came March 12, 2005, when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, but the case was dismissed for insufficient evidence, the report says.

Arguments over bail were made in case the immigration charge is revoked by police or jail officials before the judge can rule on the issue herself on Wednesday, which the judge said was "very much a possibility." A preliminary hearing is scheduled Friday.

$75,000 bail set for accused Colombian priest in Sutter County | sosa, guarin, bail - Appeal-Democrat