FORT ATKINSON -- The trial of a former Fort Atkinson and Watertown priest charged with molesting an altar boy began in Jefferson County Circuit Court Monday.
The Rev. William A. Nolan, 66, formerly of Madison, has pleaded not guilty to six felony counts of sexual assault of a child under the age of 16. The assaults reportedly began in February of 2006. If convicted of the offenses, Nolan -- who served at St. Joe's from 2002-07 -- faces a maximum sentence of 40 years for each count.
Nolan served from 1985 to 1987 in Watertown at St. Henry Catholic Church as an associate pastor, according to the church's history book, "A Church Built on the Rock," by Kenneth M. Reidl.
In trial on Monday before Judge William Hue, the day began with jury selection and ended with opening remarks from Assistant District Attorney Brookellen Teuber and Defense Attorney Jonas Bednarek.
Jury selection began with a packed courtroom full of potential jurors, which was eventually whittled down to a 15-member jury. The jury consists of six women and nine men.
Bednarek dismissed four potential jurors because they'd previously been "profoundly impacted" by sexual assault and said they couldn't look at the case fairly.
During her questioning of the jury pool, Tueber asked members if they were familiar with a number of public figures who'd been impacted by the #MeToo movement -- a social media trend involving mostly women reporting they'd been sexually harassed, abused or assaulted by men in powerful positions.
Teuber asked the potential jurors if they were familiar with former Michigan State University Doctor Larry Nassar, actor Kevin Spacey, pop musician Michael Jackson or comedian Bill Cosby.
She added, in a point that foreshadowed what she would say in her opening statement, that "people with good reputations can engage in bad actions."
"There's a difference between public persona and personal life," Teuber said.
When Teuber began her opening remarks, she started by describing the life and insecurities of the alleged victim.
She said he was adopted as a child from a foreign country and wanted more from his relationship with his parents. She said he looked different than other kids in his class because of his background.
She also said he was insecure about his sexuality.
"(The victim) knew from a really young age he was thinking more about the boys than he was thinking about the girls," Teuber said.
She added that this insecurity was compounded by the fact he grew up in the Catholic faith and going to a Catholic grade school.
"Because if you're at a Catholic school as a strong practicing Catholic, well then, homosexuality is a sin," Teuber said. "And so here (the victim is) struggling with his faith and his identity and as a Catholic child with a very strong Catholic family and attending a private Catholic school, well, this left him vulnerable, alone and he was always living a lie. (The victim) didn't feel like he ever got to be his authentic self."
This insecurity, Teuber said, is what allowed Nolan to abuse the victim.
"Enter Father Bill Nolan, the charming, charismatic, good-looking, friendly, affectionate, warm-hearted Catholic priest that came to his school," Teuber said.
Teuber said the abuse began in February 2006 after the victim served at a funeral service at the church. She said Nolan offered the victim a ride home and the two ended up in Nolan's home.
"He offered (the victim) a hug, but that lingered a little too long and a little too lingering, and then it led to a kiss, and then a longer kiss and then to a trip upstairs to the bedroom where there would be the first of many assaults," Teuber said.
The sexual encounters caused a lot of internal distress for the victim, Teuber said. He was a teenager dealing with questions about his identity and hormones and an infatuation with Nolan.
"He was conflicted between wanting it and knowing it was wrong," Teuber said. "For (the victim) it was a perceived safe place to explore his sexuality with someone he loved and trusted."
But the issue, Teuber said, is that children are unable to consent to sex.
"This case is not about an unwilling victim doing things he didn't want to do, but he was a victim nonetheless. Because (the victim) was a child and a child cannot consent to sex with an adult."
Teuber then moved on to what the defense would eventually counter with -- apparent inconsistencies in the victim's statements to police. She said this wouldn't be an easy crime to prove because it was a delayed report, a child's memory, there are no witnesses or other incriminating evidence.
"What this comes down to is someone's word that it took place," Teuber said. "And what if the defense can paint that person as a liar?"
Teuber said people lie for all sorts of reasons, including the victim.
"Well then why would you ever believe him?" Teuber said. "He's been lying about his background. He's been lying about his family. He's been lying about his financial circumstances, his grades, his intellects, all of those insecurities that he was trying so hard to keep out of the public eye."
But she added that even the parents in the jury box lied to their children about things such as Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. She said that people tell lies all the time and the lies of the victim were why Nolan targeted him in the first place, Teuber said.
"The predator gets to say they've created the perfect defense because the victim is a liar," Teuber said. "And who are you going to believe? The liar? Or the pillar of the community?"
But when Bednarek addressed the jury, he argued that these lies and inconsistencies matter.
"This isn't about Santa Claus," Bednarek said.
Bednarek said the victim's statements to police changed and were proven wrong often. He said the victim told police one encounter happened at the Denny's in Janesville -- except there isn't a Denny's in Janesville.
Bednarek said there were inconsistencies with whether attacks happened at school, the dates of attacks and the locations of the attacks.
He also said he has a number of witnesses to dispute the victim's accounts.
"You will not hear from one witness who heard or saw anything," Bednarek said.
Bednarek also said an employee from the Wisconsin Department of Justice analyzed both the victim's and Nolan's phones and computers and couldn't find one message or email between the two.
Then the defense's opening argument turned to the more graphic aspects of the crime. Bednarek said the victim was asked to describe Nolan's body.
"(The victim) was asked at one time to describe Bill Nolan's physical features," Bednarek said. "And he said he had a small penis and a hairy chest."
But, Bednarek said, Nolan has a very unique birthmark on his groin that the victim would have seen if he were performing oral sex on Nolan.
"You know what else he has?" Bednarek asked. "He has a big old birthmark right there. Never mentioned. You know why? He didn't know, because he never saw it."
Bednarek also said there's another unique aspect to Nolan's body that he wouldn't share until the victim testifies later this week.
"It's going to be a hard week," Bednarek said. "But it's got to get done to show the stories (the victim) is making up about Bill Nolan."
Nolan's trial was scheduled to continue Tuesday. in Jefferson County Circuit Court in front of Judge Hue.