Judgment day came Monday for the Rev. Neil Doherty, a retired South Florida priest accused by several men of sexually abusing them in their youth, when a Broward judge sentenced Doherty to 15 years in state prison for the repeated sexual assault of a child in the mid- to late-1990s.
Doherty, 69, appeared frail as he stood hunched and shackled before Circuit Judge Kenneth Gillespie, who announced that he had delivered “the maximum sentence I can impose’’ under the terms of a plea bargain that the disgraced Catholic priest accepted earlier this month in Broward Circuit Court.
Doherty did not speak as Gillespie told him he also would have to register as a sex offender.
But Doherty did have to face two of his accusers, who were not the victims in the criminal case but testified in open court about the traumatic sexual abuse that Doherty had visited upon them decades ago.
Dennis Montero, 43, said when he first met Doherty, the priest had a reputation for helping troubled youth.
“Father Neil told me he was going to help me,’’ Montero said.
Instead, Montero testified, Doherty repeatedly plied him with wine and drugs until he passed out.
“When I awoke,’’ Montero said, “I was naked and sexually abused.’’
Jorge Soler, 39, testified that, like the victim in the criminal case, who was not identified, Soler, too, had suffered lasting damage into adulthood from the sexual abuse that Doherty inflicted upon him.
Soler said he had been imprisoned and institutionalized over the years as he struggled to cope with “what Doherty did to me and my brother.’’
While the victim in the criminal case did not testify, he did write a letter that was read aloud in court by Jeffrey Herman, a lawyer who said he represents dozens of men who as boys were sexually abused by Doherty and other priests.
“Neil Doherty going to prison sends a clear message: You will go to prison if you molest children,’’ Herman read from the letter.
The victim’s letter also urged parents to teach their children about the dangers of sexual abuse, and to remember that strangers are not necessarily the greatest threat.
“He was my neighbor and a trusted member of the community,’’ the man wrote of Doherty.
Doherty’s defense attorney, David Bogenschutz, did not dispute the allegations against his client.
“It’s not like I can cross examine a letter,’’ Bogenschutz said to the judge.
But Bogenschutz did present a forensic psychologist who testified that Doherty’s physical and mental health are deteriorating significantly.
Dr. Michael Brannon said the results of repeated psychological evaluations conducted on the priest since about 2006 show that Doherty is “frail and sometimes confused.’’
“His memory has deteriorated significantly,’’ Brannon said of Doherty, to the point that the priest cannot recall the full details of the crimes of which he is accused.
Brannon added that Doherty exhibits denial about his medical problems, including liver disease and diabetes, and refuses to admit emotional challenges, such as frequent depression.
He added that Doherty is resigned to accept his fate, and does not interact with others in jail.
“There’s a hopelessness about him,’’ Brannon said.