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Potential Jurors for Piroli Trial Quizzed : Court: Judge's questioning in the embezzlement case focuses on feelings about the credibility of priests.


Potential jurors were quizzed on religion, drugs and bookkeeping Wednesday as jury selection continued in the trial of a Simi Valley priest accused of embezzling $60,000 from two Ventura County churches.

Father David Dean Piroli, 37, faces two counts of theft, following his arrest by Hollywood police in May, 1992, when he was found in his church car with a young man, small amounts of cocaine and $10,000 in cash and parishioners' checks.

Another $50,000 in collection money was found in Piroli's rooms at the rectory of St. Peter Claver Church in Simi Valley, and prosecutors have charged he took the cash from that church and from Sacred Heart Church in Saticoy, his previous posting.

Piroli plans to defend himself with counter-allegations that the collection money was actually taken by his supervisor, Father James McKeon, head pastor at St. Peter Claver.

Defense attorney Richard Beada has said he plans to prove that McKeon planted the cash in Piroli's car and rooms at the rectory in an attempt to frame the younger priest.

McKeon has been unavailable for comment on that charge, or on the allegation Beada made in court that he was seen frequenting a gay bathhouse in West Hollywood.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Allan Steele began wading through a pool of more than 70 potential jurors, seeking 12 members and a handful of alternates for a trial that is expected to last four to six weeks.

In the jury box, Steele seated 12 candidates, ranging from an unemployed acting student to a Navy environmental biologist, and asked them the customary questions about their jobs, hobbies and any personal history they had as either crime victims or criminals.

Then with each, he zeroed in:

"Would the fact that Piroli is wearing a priest's collar give you any concern?"

"Do you believe that priests are entitled to any more credibility because they're priests?"

"Do you feel that your religious convictions are such that you could not under any circumstances find this defendant guilty?"

"If the evidence indicates in some fashion there were illegal narcotics in some way connected to the defendant, does that make him automatically guilty of what he's been charged with in this case?"

Although a couple of potential jurors paused as if to think carefully about the questions, all answered no; none of these factors would bias their judgment, they said.

So far, none of the jurors has been placed on the panel or rejected. Questioning of these 12 candidates and others is scheduled to continue today at 10:30 a.m.

Earlier Wednesday, Steele imposed a gag order on the attorneys in the case, instructing defense attorney Beada and Deputy Dist. Atty. Mary Peace not to discuss the case publicly.

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