About 20 supporters, some reading Bibles, were present when Cleland Troy Trickel pleaded no contest to a single consolidated charge of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor.
Trickel was suspended from his position as captain for The Salvation Army in Kenai after he was indicted in February on four counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Trickel was remanded to Wildwood Pretrial Facility, but later released on $20,000 unsecured bond to his wife, Debra Trickel, and several other third-party custodians.
The indictment charged Trickel with knowingly engaging in sexual contact with A.L., who was less than 13 years old, in May and August 1999; with A.P.L., a 14-year-old member of his congregation in 1999; and with B.J., who was less than 13 years old, in 1999; all in the Kenai area.
Trickel pleaded not guilty to all four counts.
During a change of plea hearing Tuesday, though, Trickel pleaded no contest to a single consolidated count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor. Kenai Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link asked Leslie Dickson, assistant district attorney, whether she had any objection to allowing Trickel to be released to a third-party custodian pending sentencing.
However, Trickel's attorney, Allan Beiswenger, said Trickel was prepared to be remanded to the Department of Corrections. Later, Beiswenger said, he believes Trickel will be lodged at Wildwood Pretrial Facility until he is sentenced.
Trickel, silver-haired and wearing a plaid sport shirt, turned to his wife in the gallery and silently mouthed, "I love you," before walking out in the custody of an Alaska State Trooper. Debra Trickel covered her eyes and cried.
Dickson said the state essentially agreed to consolidate the four counts into one in return for the no contest plea. If convicted of four counts, Trickel potentially could have received four consecutive prison sentences. With the charges consolidated into a single count, he will be subject to a single sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
The state made no agreements concerning sentencing, she said.
"He gets convicted of one count versus four," Dickson said. "We get the benefit of him admitting to the conduct for all of the victims. If he got convicted of more than one count, I think the sentences would be concurrent anyway. So, I don't think it's that big a difference."
Trickel is a first-time offender, she said.
Beiswenger said Trickel changed his plea because "he just felt he made a horrible mistake and was responsible. He's owning up and taking responsibility."
Trickel's desire to be remanded to the Department of Corrections now is an indication of his remorse and acceptance of responsibility, Beiswenger said.
"He acknowledges he did wrong and he is willing to accept whatever is the appropriate punishment," Beiswenger said. "He'd like to accept whatever sentence is appropriate and begin serving."
An older man said he was among the spectators because, "He's my pastor. I feel he's innocent. I was here to give support."
Another spectator pulled the man away from a reporter before he could give his name.
Phil Edgerly, pastor of Reflection Lake Chapel in Kasilof, said he has been offering Trickel support at the request of someone in The Salvation Army. Edgerly said he agreed to be a third-party custodian so that he could bring Trickel to prayer meetings and so that Trickel still could be a part of the clerical community.
"There's the old thing of, 'What would Jesus do?' Can I do anything less?" he said. "I don't support the sin, but I support the sinner."
Edgerly said he does not know about Trickel's guilt or innocence.
"That's not my job to make that determination," he said.
But he questioned whether the state could prove its case against Trickel.
"Every man is innocent until proven guilty. But what's it going to take? What's it going to put his family through? What's it going to put the community through," Edgerly asked. "What's it going to cost. I know all he has left is his attorney's fee."
Link set an Aug. 14 sentencing hearing. Second-degree sexual abuse of a minor is a Class B felony subject to up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.
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