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Obwaka rape case goes to trial

ROGERS CITY — The sexual assault case where Rev. Sylvestre Obwaka is accused of raping another priest has been sent to trial.

The defense asked for the case to be dismissed, which was denied by Judge Don McLennan, Tuesday in 89th District Court. This means there was enough evidence presented to the court to move to trial.

Obwaka, who is on administrative leave from his duties as St. Ignatius’ priest, was charged on two counts of criminal sexual conduct Feb. 21. He was charged with a count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with personal injury, and third-degree criminal sexual conduct force or coercion.

During court Tuesday the alleged victim, a 28-year-old priest with the Diocese of Gaylord testified.

First the victim was asked questions by Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon.

During this testimony the victim said he was in Rogers City for priest duties.

He said he first met Obwaka in Tawas, while he attended high school many years ago. He later saw him at different priest events.

“I had a working relationship with him, and I knew him from high school,” the victim said.

The victim said Obwaka first gave him a tour of St. Ignatius school and then invited him back to the rectory later on Jan. 31.

“I texted him that I’d be coming late. I arrived around 9:30 p.m.,” he said. “I had a bag of clothes and he showed me the different guest rooms.”

After he chose his room and changed, the victim said he was offered something to drink or eat.

“He offered to make me a Manhattan, I said ‘sure,'” he said.

The victim recounted how the two continued to discuss their careers, politics and stressors of the job during the course of the night. He said they both drank about five mixed drinks.

The victim said he became tired and decided to go to bed.

He said after he went to bed he woke up to Obwaka touching him and performing oral sex. The victim said he tried to roll away, but Obwaka pinned him down by his shoulders and raped him.

“I kept saying ‘no, no, no,'” the victim said.

He said Obwaka left the room and the victim went to take a long shower.

“I showered long enough until the water turned cold,” he said.

He said there was a problem with the water and he then went to find the water valve to turn it off before it leaked. He then laid back in bed and was woken up by Obwaka to leave for breakfast before they attended mass.

“I had a lot of emotions going into mass,” he said. “There was no way to get out of mass. I felt dirty, I felt sacrilegious. I did the best I could.”

Afterward he said he started his drive home and broke down emotionally. He decided to talk about the assault with a counselor from Catholic Human Services. Then the assault was reported to the diocese, then the victim went to a doctor on Feb. 1 for an examination. The victim went on a prearranged vacation and returned from vacation on Feb. 17 and reported the assault to the Michigan State Police the same day.

Defense attorney Daniel White cross-examined the victim. White asked him why he decided to drink five drinks and if he remembers a consensual kiss.

“I don’t recall a kiss,” the victim said.

White asked why the victim didn’t push Obwaka off or jump out of bed while the assault took place. During these questions Radzibon objected because a victim does not have to prove resistance.

The defense maintains the assault was a consensual act between consenting adults. The prosecution said it was a sexual assault.

McLennan said a preliminary is done to determine probable cause that a felony occurred. McLennan said the court was satisfied by the evidence presented on both counts. The next court date has been scheduled for 9 a.m. March 20.

Jordan Spence can be reached via email at jspence@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687.