Former Champaign priest pleads guilty to drug charges

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Christopher Layden won't have to serve jail time for his guilty plea made in court on Thursday.

University of Illinois police arrested him in September after using an informant to track cocaine sales.

Christopher Layden admitted to unlawful possession with intent to deliver more than one gram of cocaine as part of a plea deal. He'll spend the next four years on probation.

"Once he was released from the correctional center took steps to work towards rehabilitation," said Julia Rietz, Champaign County State's Attorney. "He's gotten himself into treatment. He's moving forward. Based on his lack of a prior criminal history and his rehabilitative potential we determined it was appropriate to make this a probation able case."

In September, Layden was charged with felony charges of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance within 1000 feet of a church. The St. John's Catholic Newman Center in Champaign and those charges were dropped.

"The positives clearly are clearly that he's well on the road to recovery which he started literally the day of his arrest," said Mark Lipton, defense attorney. "He doesn't go to prison. He's not going to jail. The negative side of course he is a convicted felon."

If he had been convicted on those charges, Layden could have spent up to 30 years in prison.

As part of his probation, he must serve 150 hours of community service within the first year and get a drug evaluation within the first 60 days.

Layden was suspended of all pastoral duties after his arrest. His defense attorney says he hopes to return to priesthood.

"I only hope the diocese keeps him," Lipton said. "I don't know what their plans are. I know he wants to be a priest."

Bishop Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria says he has not decided if Layden will ever be able to return to active ministry.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz says if Layden violates any conditions of his probation, his probation could be revoked and he could be sentenced to a prison term.

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