Judge rules minister ineligible for confidentiality protections

The Press-Enterprise, California/March 14, 2009

An ordained minister with the Jehovah's Witnesses voluntarily talked to detectives investigating the bludgeoning death of a Murrieta woman making him ineligible for the confidentially protections afforded by law to clergymen and their parishioners, a judge ruled Friday.

The ruling means that Jose Cespedes must testify during Kelle Lee Jarka's trial on charges of murder for financial gain in connection with the April death of his wife, Isabelle Jarka.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer ruled Cespedes waived his rights to confidentially, in part, because he freely gave statements to investigators on four separate occasions between April and June.

The ruling comes in response to Cespedes, an ordained minister with the Spanish Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Temecula, claim that he should not be compelled to testify because Kelle Jarka's statements were confidential communications between a clergyman and his parishioner.

During Friday's hearing, Cespedes testified Isabelle Jarka called on April 27 and asked him to come to the Jarka home, where he stayed from about 10 p.m. until 4 a.m.

"She wasn't asking for guidance from you as an elder with the Jehovah's Witnesses?" asked prosecutor Burke Strunsky.

No, Cespedes said. "I went there as a friend."

The conversation was focused on concerns Isabelle Jarka had about a congregation member who died from complications of AIDS, Cespedes said.

She was unaware of how the virus was spread and concerned about the safety of her family and her congregation, he said. She was also concerned that her husband was spending a great deal of time with the dead man's family.

Strunsky asked why Cespedes stayed at the Jarka home for six hours that night and into the next day.

"Sir," Cespedes answered, "a friend called and make me to listen to her concerns."

About five hours after Cespedes left the Jarka home, Kelle Jarka, 40, called Murrieta police and reported that he had returned home from running errands to find his wife unconscious on the floor, according to Murrieta police. Isabelle Jarka was hit in the head 11 times with a blunt object. Life insurance policies valued at more than $1 million were taken out on her in the weeks before her death, according to police.

Defense attorney Erin Kirkpatrick asked Cespedes if he ever spoke to Isabelle Jarka or Kelle Jarka alone.

No, he said, and no other topics were discussed during his visit.

The prosecution and the defense found themselves in rare agreement as they both asked the court to deny Cespedes request. During the hearing, Kelle Jarka said he was not seeking the protections afforded by the penitent-clergy privilege.

Freer also ruled Cespedes conversations did not meet the requirements of a penitential communication.

"Its simply not privileged information," the judge said. "He was clearly there as a friend."

To be deemed a penitential communication, the law says, the statements must made in confidence to a member of the clergy, who is authorized to hear such things, who has a duty to keep the communications secret.

Jarka's trial is tentatively scheduled to begin on April 20 at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

If convicted, Kelle Jarka faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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