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Man Charged in Ore. Nun’s Slaying

September 3, 2002

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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) _ Police charged a man with sexually assaulting a nun and strangling her with her rosary beads as she took a late-night stroll with another nun. The other woman was also sexually assaulted, police said.

Sister Helen Chaska, 53, became the first homicide victim in Klamath County this year when she was attacked while reciting the rosary as she and her companion strolled down a bike path just after midnight Sunday.

An autopsy showed that she was strangled with her rosary beads, which became embedded in her neck.

The other woman was treated at a hospital and released.

Maximiliano Cilerio Esparza, 32, was charged with aggravated murder, kidnapping, assault, sodomy, sexual abuse and possession and delivery of a controlled substance. He was being held without bail at the Klamath County Jail.

Klamath County District Attorney Ed Caleb said Esparza had just left ``the only strip joint in Klamath Falls″ before he attacked the women.

``(He) then came down there, ran into them, attacked them, beat them severely to weaken them, then proceeded to sexually assault both of them, and, we believe, strangle one of them,″ Caleb said.

Prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty.

The nuns, both of Bellevue, Wash., are members of the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and were in Klamath Falls doing missionary work. They are traditionalist Orthodox Catholic by faith, and unaffiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

In a phone conversation with The Oregonian, the surviving nun said she has been finding comfort in prayer.

``We don’t understand why what happened, but it’s all in his plan. Whatever his reason, we’ll know in eternity. It’s so hard for us on earth to fathom these things.″

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