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A former Catholic priest who had been living at a retreat in Washington County before a child sexual abuse arrest last year was found dead in his jail cell Tuesday morning after an apparent suicide.

Michael R. Hands, 51, of Easton, was found dead by corrections staff in Saratoga County Jail early Tuesday. Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said the death is a suspected suicide, but he could not comment further as the state Commission of Correction was investigating.

An autopsy was scheduled Wednesday.

Hands was to be sentenced Thursday for his January guilty pleas to two felony counts of criminal sexual act for a sexual relationship with an underage teen boy in Charlton. He faced up to 8 years in state prison at his sentencing, which was scheduled for later this week.

Hands had been removed from the priesthood in the early 2000s after a child sex prosecution in Suffolk County, then cooperated with prosecutors on Long Island as they investigated alleged abuse by other priests.

Hands had lived in recent years at Easton Mountain Retreat, a business that bills itself as a nonprofit “community, retreat center, and sanctuary created by gay men as a gift to the world.”

His profile on the organization’s website showed he served as its “membership director” in recent years, after starting as a “volunteer coordinator.” He was removed from those positions after his arrest.

He was a Level 3 registered sex offender because of a 2003 sodomy conviction in Suffolk County, which stemmed from sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy while a priest.

Police said his sexual abuse prosecution in Saratoga County came after he met a teen online and had a sexual relationship and shared child pornography with him.

His lawyer, James Tyner, issued a statement to New York Newsday on Tuesday about his client’s death.

“He certainly understood that he owed a debt to society and pled guilty without the need for a trial, which would have subjected the complainant in this case to public scrutiny that Michael wished to spare him from,” Tyner is quoted as saying. “And at the end of the day, this is obviously a very tragic event.”

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reporter

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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