Priest convicted of child porn dies in Illinois prison

March 6, 2020 GMT

PINCKNEYVILLE, Ill. (AP) — A former southern Illinois priest sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty last year to distributing child pornography and processing methamphetamine has died, authorities announced Friday.

Perry County Coroner Paul Searby said Gerald Hechenberger was pronounced dead Friday morning at Pinckneyville Community Hospital. He was serving his sentence at Pinkneyville Correctional Center. The Belleville News-Democrat reports Searby did not give a cause of death.

Hechenberger formerly pastored Holy Childhood Catholic Church in Mascoutah. He was arrested at the church in January 2018 after police received a tip about his activities. Investigators seized electronic devices and found drug paraphernalia, methamphetamine and images and videos of child pornography in the priest’s possession. Prosecutors said none of the children depicted in the pornography were southern Illinois residents.


During a January sentencing hearing, Hechenberger said he was sorry for his conduct, saying he has ``never been abusive or inappropriate to anyone of any age.” He said his behavior was a result of a ``perfect storm” of mental health issues, drug use, hyper-sexual thoughts and grief after the 2014 death of his father. Judge Zina Cruse said Hechenberger ``exhibited a desire to see others abuse prepubescent children.”