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John Praveen, a former Catholic priest, sentenced for sex crime

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) – A Catholic priest has pleaded guilty to sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl back in September of last year.

On Friday, Fr. John Praveen was sentenced to six years in the South Dakota State Penitentiary with the potential for parole after half of the time is served. Once Praveen is up for parole, he is expected to be deported back to India.

In a previous court appearance, Praveen admitted to touching the girl’s breasts over her clothing. However, State’s Attorney Mark Vargo took offense to the term “over the clothes”, because the girl was wearing a leotard under her sweater. Vargo said Praveen reached under the girl’s sweater.

In a plea agreement, both sides agreed to asked the court for a single year in local jail with credit for Praveen‘s 178 days he has already spent behind bars. The single year request with consent from the victim’s family, knowing that as soon as Praveen is done with his sentence he will be deported back to India.

In a fairly rare move, Judge Robert Mandel went significantly above the plea agreement in sentencing Praveen to six years.

“I do not believe the penalty in the plea agreement is adequate,” Mandel said before reading the new sentence in the Seventh Circuit Court. The maximum penalty was 15 years.

Praveen still gets credit for his time served and will be up for parole in a little more than two and a half years.Then his case will be turned over to Homeland Security where he is expected to be deported during parole.

During the sentencing, a letter from the victim’s mother was read to the court. In it, she lays out how Praveen attacked her child and the impact it has had on her family.

“He attacked her at a time in development where her understanding of personal dignity, value, and worth were being developed,” the mother writes.

Making the matter worse was the time and place the attack occurred.

“The count he has pleaded guilty to occurred in the Cathedral, at a public Saint Padre Pio relic event. He had just finished Mass and was wearing his clerics,” she writes. “. . . He chose deliberately to pleasure himself, assaulting her.”

She says Praveen solicited her daughter in the Confessional. According to her, Praveen kissed the child on her neck and face and described his body as “erect”.

“I struggle to sleep due to so many memories of her descriptions of how she got away from him, ran and hid, only to have him hunt her down, finding her hiding spot and bringing her back for more,” the mom writes.

The impact of the assault has had far reaching impacts on the family. According the mother, the victim’s sister says she will never return to Catholic Church.

“Our son, who attempted to protect our daughter in the Cathedral basement that night, suffered guilt and a sense of helplessness,” the letter reads.

In the final sentence of the letter, the family asks the judge for a “rigorous sentence“.

Despite the presence of an interpreter, Praveen elected to address the court in English, offering his condolences and apologies.

“I am deeply sorry for for the pain I have caused and can’t take it back, but I wish I could,” Praveen said. “I cannot say sorry enough.”

Praveen has been removed from his duties as a priest but has not officially been defrocked. However, Vargo says he has spoken with Praveen‘s religious order in India and they plan to expelled him.