FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A former South Florida priest who accepted a please deal on sexual abuse charges was sentenced to 15 years in prison Monday morning.
A frail, disheveled, and seemingly confused, Father Neil Doherty didn't speak during the hearing, didn't acknowledge two of his victims who were in the courtroom. Doherty molested those two victims, now grown men, when they were just teens.
"I'm thankful to God that this is over with today," said one of the victims.
The 69-year-old Catholic priest was looking at life in prison for allegedly molesting at young boy at a parish in Margate in the 1990s
In early January, Doherty pleaded no contest to 6 of the 8 felony counts against him. That reduced sex abuse charges from a capital felony to a second degree felony. The other two charges were dropped.
Prosecutors agreed to the 15-year sentence in part to avoid making the victims relive their ordeals during a trial on the stand, but mostly because of Doherty's age and fragile health.
"It's the best sentence the law can give us, I'm happy with the sentence. I don't think he has 15 years left in him," said Dennis Montero.
Montero is one of nearly three dozen men who have accused Doherty of molesting them in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Many of those victims have filed civil suits against him and the Archdiocese of Miami, claiming church leaders knew of Doherty's behavior and moved him between parishes to cover it up.
Civil attorney Jeffrey Herman read a pointed letter from one of Doherty's victim who couldn't face the former priest in court.
"Neil Doherty's sentence sends a clear message to all clergy. You will go to prison if you molest or rape children."
Doherty, however, never admitted any wrong doing.
"He maintains he's innocent of what the state attorney put on the record," said his attorney, David Bogenshutz.
For the mother of his accuser, the 15-year sentence is nowhere near enough.
"I'm so sick," she said. "This is not justice. The [expletive deleted] mental anguish we've all been through."
Prosecutors say Doherty drugged and raped the young boy. That boy's mother says the abuse went on for 5 years. She says it's a terrifying ordeal from which her now 26-year-old will never recover.
While the criminal case against Doherty identifies one victim, attorney Jeff Herman is handling civil lawsuits for several other accusers from the 1970s through the 90s.
"My opinion is that any day that Father Doherty is not in jail kids are not safe in Florida," Herman said. "He is a notorious serial sexual predator who has sexually abused dozens and dozens of boys over the years."