A man who served as a priest at a Farmington church several decades ago will spend longer in prison than originally expected.
Gary Berthiaume, who served as a priest at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in the 1970s, was sentenced Jan. 20 to serve between 17 months and 15 years in prison. That sentence came after Berthiaume pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree criminal sexual assault and pleaded no contest to one count of gross indecency.
That sentence, handed down by Oakland County Circuit Judge Daniel O’Brien during a hearing held online, exceeds an original expected sentence where Berthiaume would serve a minimum of one year and one day per an original plea agreement reached in November. Berthiaume later withdrew his plea before placing it back on the record, which allowed for a different sentence to be imposed by the court.
The 17-month minimum sentence was shorter than what was discussed by the state attorney general’s office, who prosecuted the case. Assistant Attorney General Danielle Russo Bennetts said the victims in the case, who spoke at a previous hearing, said they were comfortable with the original figure imposed by the court at that hearing late last year, which was a minimum of 20 months in prison.
“Most victims were pleased with the 20 months and would not mind seeing that today,” she said.
Michael Smith, Berthiaume’s attorney, asked O’Brien to stick with the original 366-day minimum sentence agreed to during the previous hearing.
“This is closure for everyone. The allocution I’ve stated in the past and most recently is when we first did the agreement, we believed it to be fair and equitable,” he said. “That’s why we entered into that agreement.”
That original sentence was erased after Berthiaume withdrew his guilty plea, prompting a new hearing and sentencing after he pleaded guilty again.
Berthiaume was originally arrested in 2020 at his home in Illinois on a single charge of second degree criminal sexual conduct at his home and brought to Michigan to face the charge. The victim in that case was 14 at the time and reported the assault took place in August 1977 at the rectory of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Additional charges were added after more investigation by the attorney general’s office last summer when additional incidents were discovered to have taken place during the 1970s. Berthiaume served as a priest at both Our Lady of Sorrows and at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Wyandotte during that timeframe.
Berthiaume, who sat next to his attorney in a room during the virtual hearing, did not make a statement before the sentence was handed down. All he said was that he was ready to move forward.
“I’m just waiting to be sentenced and accept it,” he said.
More:Farmington schools diversity challenge target of support, criticism at board meeting
More:Slider restaurant hopes to relocate in former bank building in Farmington
More:‘High-end’ apartments, town homes proposed for bowling alley site in Farmington Hills
Smith said Berthiaume has overall led an “exemplary” life the last few decades, saying he and his family have dedicated themselves to their religion.
While Berthiaume does have a previous conviction on his record — he served a sentence in the Oakland County Jail back in the 1970s for sexually assaulting two minors — Smith said he has not had legal troubles.
“He’s done a lot of good in his life. More good than not,” he said. “He’s prayed a lot. He’s prayed for everybody on this screen.”
Berthiaume is expected to turn himself in to the Oakland County Jail by 5 p.m. Jan. 20. There, he’ll be turned over to the Michigan Department of Corrections to serve out his sentence.
After issuing the sentence, O’Brien spoke broadly to all those who were victims of crimes.
“My deepest sympathies to all people suffering,” he said. “That’s a universal statement in this world.”
Contact reporter David Veselenak at email@example.com or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.