JEFFERSON — Former Fort Atkinson priest William A. Nolan said during emotional testimony Thursday that it was a nightmare come true when sexual abuse allegations were made against him.
Nolan testified for more than two hours in the fourth day of his molestation trial before Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge William Hue. In that testimony, Nolan — and his defense attorney, Jonas Bednarek — attempted to show there was no way the priest could have molested the accuser.
“(I’m) mad, angry,” Nolan said. “Because it didn’t happen.”
Nolan is charged with five counts of sexual abuse of a child under the age of 16 after one count was dismissed in court Thursday. If convicted, Nolan faces a maximum sentence of 40 years for each count.
The alleged victim, a former altar server at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church who is now 26 years old, claims he and Nolan engaged in sexual contact while he was in grades 7-10. The man alleged that it began in February 2006 and occurred over a five-year period when he was ages 13-17. He told authorities that the alleged contact occurred more than 100 times, according to the criminal complaint.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Brookellen Teuber showed some inconsistencies with what Nolan told police and what he told the jury.
For example, in court Thursday, Nolan said he never had kissed the alleged victim. But in an initial interview with detectives from the Fort Atkinson Police Department, Nolan reportedly said, “I don’t recall.”
“Do you think kissing a child would be memorable?” Teuber asked Nolan.
In his two hours of testimony — along with the testimony of Nolan’s primary care doctor, Paul Wertsch — Nolan and Bednarek talked about three noteworthy parts of Nolan’s body about which only the accuser would have known.
A skin tag at the fold of Nolan’s right groin, a large scar on the chest from open-heart surgery that Nolan had at age 26 and a large scar on the leg from that same surgery were all used to argue there’s no way the accuser had ever seen Nolan naked.
A photo of the skin tag and Nolan’s groin was shown to the jury and Nolan showed his chest and right leg to the courtroom to display both scars.
Wertsch also was shown the photos and said he knew about both scars and the skin tag.
Wertsch said Nolan reached out to him after Nolan’s arrest to document that the skin tag had been on the groin.
But when asked by Teuber, Wertsch said he could not be absolutely sure the skin tag had been there since before the alleged abuse.
“It looked familiar,” Wertsch said. “But I couldn’t swear on a stack of Bibles that I recognized it.”
Nolan’s testimony also attempted to show there were inconsistencies with the alleged victim’s story.
Nolan said he would go to his condominium near Milwaukee on many Sunday afternoons and Mondays to get away — and that was the timeframe for many of the alleged assaults.
Nolan said he was not on the parochial school/church ski trip in 2007 when it was alleged that he and the victim touched each other under a blanket on a school bus.
Nolan also testified that when he was at cross country practices at Dorothy Carnes County Park, he would only have run with adults.
“I exclusively ran with Mike Bender,” Nolan said, adding he was only ever at practice three times and he never ran with the victim, who had alleged sexual content at the park.
Bender, who also testified Thursday, said Nolan was at most cross country practices and he “usually” would run with Nolan.
In the most emotional part of Nolan’s testimony, the priest talked about the circumstances that forced him to leave his role as pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. He said, through tears, that his father had dementia and he left to take care of him.
The date Nolan left the church is important because the accuser said some assaults had occurred after October 2007 when Nolan already would have been gone.
While the accuser said he remembers Nolan being back a lot to substitute during Mass and to visit friends, Nolan said he only was back a handful of times and did not remember going to the alleged victim’s performance in a high school play one year later.
But, during Teuber’s cross-examination, Nolan was not able to poke as many holes in the state’s case.
When initially interviewed by Fort Atkinson police, Nolan told them he did not remember the victim ever being in his home.
But on Thursday, Nolan told the jury he remembered two instances.
One was during an annual cookout for graduating St. Joseph’s School eighth-graders at Nolan’s home. The other instance was a time the victim came over to the house unannounced and helped Nolan wash and wax his car.
Nolan also had told Fort Atkinson Police Department Detective Lisa Hefty that he remembered a time the victim was in his living room.
“This is the first time I’m hearing about the car wash,” Hefty said while on the stand Thursday.
Elsewhere in Hefty’s testimony, the defense attorney reviewed all the times the police officer had found inconsistencies or misremembered facts in statements she received from the alleged victim. For example, the accuser told her that he and Nolan and gone to a Janesville Denny’s, but there is no Denny’s in Janesville.
Bednarek spent a large amount of time going line by line through transcripts of Hefty’s telephone calls with the accuser — including a period of time the jury had to be sent out of the room for what Judge Hue called a rare “triple hearsay.”
“You and I will be discussing a lot of what’s contained in those transcripts,” Bednarek told Hefty.
Bednarek focused in on a physical description the victim gave to Hefty due to the unique scars and skin tag on Nolan’s body. But Hefty said she would not have asked for that much detail, only about how hairy his chest was and whether he was circumcised.
Hefty said that although she had to keep going back to the accuser to clarify or refine facts, there were details that never changed.
“There are some inconsistencies and some things that are consistent,” Hefty said.
After Nolan’s testimony, Hefty was called back to the stand for the state’s rebuttal. In that testimony, Hefty said Nolan did not quite deny the allegations the first time the two spoke.
“He said they did not have a sexual relationship as far as he was concerned,” Hefty said.
Nolan’s trial is scheduled to continue Friday at 9 a.m. for closing remarks and jury instruction before given to the jury for deliberation.
Meanwhile, Nolan’s desire to enter seminary came at age 26, after heart surgery.
By that time he already had graduated from Edgewood College in Madison with a bachelor’s degree and was a successful businessman managing a hotel in Madison.
Nolan originally was ordained in 1985 and began serving as an associate pastor at St. Henry Catholic Church in Watertown. He subsequently was assigned as an associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Madison.
He also was assigned to St. John Vianney in Janesville. And just prior to his time at St. Joseph’s, Nolan is believed to have served a parish in Cambridge.
His tenure at St. Joseph’s from 2002-07 came during a tumultuous time in the parish as a decision was being made whether to move from the longtime site at the corner of North Main Street and Madison Avenue to a new location, subsequently on Endl Boulevard.
Nolan took early retirement in 2007, citing his heart disease and interest in caring for his own father.