Priest’s computer examined
BLUE EARTH – Investigators and prosecutors want to know what are in files found on the computer of Father Leo Charles Koppala before proceeding with the case against him.
Koppala, who had been serving as priest for Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Blue Earth, has been charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The charges stem from an incident June 7 in which Koppala allegedly engaged in sexual conduct with a child under 13 years of age, with the defendant being more than 36 months older than the child. The charges allege that Koppala, 47, fondled the child while visiting the home where the child was staying.
The subject of the computer files came up Monday at Koppala’s contested omnibus hearing.
His attorney, Philip J. Elbert, asked Judge Douglas Richards to suppress evidence gathered from a search warrant, and recounted the numerous times he has requested that the prosecution turn over evidence, such as an audiotape of a statement Koppala gave to police.
The state has provided transcripts and will provide the audio file, said prosecutor Troy Timmerman, but he pointed out that Elbert has requested more than one audio file and Timmerman’s office did not realize the one had not been turned over yet.
“A continuance may be appropriate,” Timmerman suggested to Richards.
“This case has been growing since it was filed,” Timmerman explained. “The sheriff [and police have] interviewed others who are not necessarily victims, but have concerns.”
Timmerman reported that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has sent word that it has been able to unlock files stored on a computer found in Koppala’s apartment.
“We do not know what those files contain,” said Timmerman, adding that Sheriff Mike Gormley and others were traveling to the bureau’s offices Monday to examine the files.
“We do question why they were locked files,” Timmerman said.
If the files contain information of a criminal nature, more charges could be filed, he said. If more charges are filed, Timmerman could request another omnibus hearing.
“It makes sense to wait and address all the issues at one time,” he said.
Richards asked Timmerman how long he expects it to take to go through the computer files.
Timmerman said the bureau warned the deputies that they would not have enough time to read the files in one afternoon.
“The [bureau] is giving it high priority,” Timmerman said. “I expect they will try to get it done in one to two weeks.”
Richards said he wants to review the bureau’s progress with the two lawyers on July 16.
Timmerman also informed Richards that Koppala, a native of India, has made numerous phone calls from jail, speaking in his native dialect of Tamil. Timmerman wants time to have the taped phone calls translated.
“That may generate additional notices to the court,” he said.
Judge Richards ended up denying Elbert’s request to suppress and granted Timmerman’s for the continuance.
Elbert then asked again for a reduction in bail for his client. On June 17, he had requested a reduction from $75,000 to $20,000. Richards refused that request, wanting more information on Koppala’s immigration status. Elbert reiterated his request Monday, reminding the judge that a local couple is willing to let Koppala stay with them because he is not allowed on parish grounds, by order of the Diocese of Winona. Richards said he has now received word that there is no immigration or customs issue with the case.
Timmerman was opposed to lowering the bail.
“We believe the bail is appropriate as set,” he said, especially since there is still information to investigate.
“The court finds the original bail as set is reasonable,” Richards said.
“I’m very disappointed in what happened today,” Elbert said afterward. “The county attorney got a continuance due to his failure to give me documents, which I think is wrong.
“And the judge didn’t reduce bail, which I disagree with,” Elbert added. “Through no fault of Mr. Koppala, he has to sit in jail longer.”