CLEVELAND -- A former Catholic brother who pleaded guilty to killing a priest in 2002 and then setting fire to the rectory at St. Stanislaus Church now says his initial confession was coerced by Cleveland police and that he did not commit the murder.
In an exclusive interview at a state prison in Marion, Dan Montgomery told Channel 3 News that he never shot Father William Gulas and then set fire to the priest's office to cover up the crime.
"I did not do this crime," said Montgomery, who has filed a motion with the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court seeking to withdraw his guilty plea.
"I was extremely depressed at that time and was not in my right mind while signing this confession. "
He said it was the police who came up with the typed confession during an 8-hour interview in which Montgomery claims to have been confused, depressed and suicidal after learning that Gulas was murdered.
"Police at first would not accept my answers...they just kept pressing me and trying to force answers upon me," Montgomery said. "They kept suggesting events. After a while, I just began to take their suggestions. I was so worn out I just wanted the questioning to end at that point so I agreed to anything."
He only pleaded guilty to the murder to avoid a possible death sentence if found guilty at trial, Montgomery said. He is currently serving 24 years to life in prison.
Assistant Prosecutor Collen Reali is confident that the right man is behind bars for Gulas's murder. She said Montgomery was upset that he was being transferred from St. Stanislaus because of several incidents involving parishioners and students at the school.
"He was angry, he had the opportunity, he confessed to it, and then he pleaded to it," Reali said.
Gulas's murder shocked area Catholics as well as members of the Slavic Village community where the Cleveland parish is located.
Following the death, high-ranking police officials and then Mayor Jane Campbell promised a quick resolution to the case.
"If I thought an innocent man was in jail, I would be fighting the fight ... Dan did this," said St. Stanislaus Pastor Michael Surufka. "He was a brother. He lived in our house. He ate dinner at our table. He prayed at the altar with us. But he did it."
Montgomery said he is coming forward now because a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer -- Montgomery grew up there -- uncovered evidence he said prosecutors never told him about. Evidence, he said, that will prove his innocence.
The confession says Montgomery bought a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver from an African American clerk at the K&S Food Mart near the church a day before the murder.
But police reports say the store's owner did not have any black employees on the payroll.
The store's owner also offered to let police look through surveillance videotapes to determine if Montgomery had come into the store as he said, the reports indicate. Police never took the owner up on the offer.
"There are many inconsistencies in the confession," Montgomery said. "I had never been to K&S Food Mart."
The confession also says that Montgomery admitted dropping the gun on the floor of Gulas's office after shooting him. But police never found it, despite searching the church from top to bottom.
Then there's the discovery church administrator Dan Kane made after being brought into Gulas's office after the fire.
"The door to the safe was wide open," Kane told Channel 3 News. Lying next to the safe was a normally padlocked tool box that the church used to store money -- about $1400 -- for its weekly bingo game. "The money was nowhere to be seen and the tool box was lying upside down."
The motion filed by Montgomery also notes that Gulas's cell phone was found a week after the murder in a vacant lot almost 2 miles from the church.
Police had no idea it was missing until a friend of Gulas's called it to hear his voice on the recording.
"When the phone picked up, it was somebody on the other end and it wasn't William," said Marilyn Mosinski, who became friendly with Gulas through church functions. "It kind of freaked me out and I just hung up."
Police traced the phone to Terry Dobbins, a convicted drug dealer. He denied any involvement, saying a family member found the cell phone at the lot and sold it to him.
"It looks like there was a robbery at the time that resulted in murder and arson," said Montgomery.
In addition to accusing prosecutors of not turning over all the evidence, Montgomery also said that his defense attorney at the time, Henry Hilow, failed to investigate the evidence at the time or to investigate Montgomery's mental condition to determine if he had falsely confessed.
Hilow said that Montgomery is being "intellectually dishonest" in proclaiming his innocence now and saying this evidence was never turned over by prosecutors.
"He was aware of the evidence -- it makes absolutely no sense not to tell him," Hilow said. "He confessed to the crime. He admitted it to us, he told us how he did it."
Kane said the different pieces of evidence gives him pause as to whether Montgomery murdered Gulas. "I hope at some point these questions get answered," he said.