Suspended Newman priest’s trial set for this winter

By Mark Rivera

Christopher Layden, St. John’s Catholic Newman Center priest, sat near the back of the courtroom, his black suit and yellow tie neatly placed.

Tuesday was Layden’s felony pre-trial. He has been charged with two counts of intent to deliver a controlled substance and one count of possession of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a church after three grams of powdered cocaine were found during a warranted search of the Newman Center and rectory.

Layden stood as Judge Harry E. Clem addressed his case.

Tom Lockman, Layden’s defense attorney, instantly rose from his seat and passed a paper to both the prosecution and the judge. He asked for a continuance.

“Discovery is not yet complete,” Lockman said.

Clem will continue Layden’s case until Nov. 25 when another pre-trial hearing will be held.

The entire ordeal was over in 30 seconds.

After Layden’s pre-trial, prosecutor Dan Clifton of the state’s attorney’s office said the case could be tried sometime in December or January.

“To some extent, it’s going to depend on how the defense attorney wants to proceed and how quickly he wants to proceed,” Clifton said. “We can try it as soon as we have the results back from the crime lab on the drugs.”

Neither Layden nor Lockman had any comment.

However, according to Sgt. Tom Geis of the University Police Department, Layden’s first pre-trial was not the only aspect of his case that had come to a close.

Regarding police investigation into Layden’s drug allegations, “everything that’s going to be done is done,” Geis said . “We don’t arrest people unless we have a solid case on someone.”

He added that he could not comment further because he did not want to unfairly bias the trial.

Aaron Walker, sophomore in AHS, said he saw Layden at a few masses while attending Holy Trinity high school in Bloomington, Ill. Walker said Layden had always seemed knowledgeable.

“He said to live life like Jesus lived,” Walker said. “He always talked about how he went to Rome and was around the Pope.”

Reflecting on Layden’s words, Walker said it made him wonder how Layden could be have committed the crimes he was charged with.

Sister Joanne Vander Heyden said she met Layden when he was a senior in high school in Hoopeston, Ill. She said she often thinks about him in light of the allegations.

“I wonder where he’s going to go,” Vander Heyden said. “Will he go back to his dad in Hoopeston? Maybe he has a priest friend.”

She added that when a priest is suspended from duty, or defrocked, it does not mean the Catholic Church believes the priest to be guilty of a crime.

“With all of the scandals that have gone on, I think (the media) is very tough on priests,” she said.

The Peoria Diocese was unavailable for comment on this matter; however Walker said he agreed.

“I know the Catholic Church has gone through a lot lately,” he said. However he added that the accused are innocent until proven guilty.

Walker said he thought at this point, honesty should be Layden’s biggest concern.

“Don’t make excuses,” Walker said. “Be honest.”