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Man Charged in Ore. Nun’s Slaying

September 3, 2002

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KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. (AP) _ Police have 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 she was strangled with her rosary beads, which became embedded in her neck. The other woman was treated at a hospital and released.

Maximiliano 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. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had obtained an attorney.

An arraignment that had been scheduled for Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday. 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.

As shaken residents placed flowers in the fence along the bike path, the slain nun’s brother expressed shock.

``Why would anyone attack a nun?″ Jim Chaska said during an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from his North Dakota home. ``They certainly didn’t have any money.″