February 10, 2005

Apprentice Monk Admits Murdering Nun At Fla. School

Local 6

POSTED: 3:33 pm EST February 10, 2005

MIAMI -- An apprentice Byzantine Catholic monk pleaded guilty Thursday to fatally stabbing and beating a nun in 2001 after prosecutors agreed to a reduced sentence, believing he had been abused by two priests.

Mykhaylo Kofel, 22, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed burglary and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, under a plea bargain reached with prosecutors. He was originally charged with first-degree murder and could have received a sentence of death or life in prison.

Kofel, a Ukrainian, had been training with the Byzantine Monastic Order of the Eastern Orthodox Church when he stabbed Michelle Lewis, a 39-year-old Greek Catholic nun, more than 90 times. Her nude body was found March 25, 2001, in her residence at the Holy Cross Academy in western Miami-Dade County, where he had studied for five years and she taught.

"I am really sorry. I want to take full responsibility for my actions," Kofel told the court Thursday. "If I could, I would give my life for hers. Murder is wrong no matter what."

Kofel, who was 18 when the murder occurred, told authorities that two priests at the school, Father Abbott Gregory Wendt and Father Damian Gibault, sexually abused him. Although neither priest has been charged, prosecutor Gail Levine believes Kofel was abused, which led to the plea agreement.
"We learned of sexual and physical abuse of this defendant," Levine said. She said the investigation into Kofel's claims continues.

The priests say Kofel is lying.

"We have, from the very first day, denied the allegations of Kofel," said Richard Hersch, Gibault's lawyer. Hersch said many agencies, including the FBI, have closed their investigations into the abuse as there was no evidence.

Posted by kshaw at February 10, 2005 07:13 PM