‘Cult’ church leader Michael Sperou sentenced to 13 years in prison in sexual abuse case

The Oregonian/January 31, 2020

By Noelle Crombie

Michael Sperou, the disgraced leader of a church group that prosecutors called a “cult,” was sentenced Friday to about 13 years in prison for sexually abusing a former member when she was a child.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Andrew Lavin sentenced Sperou, 69, to 160 months and ordered him to pay one of his victims, Shannon Clark, $70,000 in damages.

During the trial, Clark, 33, testified that Sperou abused her from about ages 3 to 10. A jury convicted him on Jan. 24 of two counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration..

Clark was not in the courtroom Friday, but her attorney, Sean Riddell, read a statement on her behalf. Clark wrote that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggles to foster healthy relationships.

“I feel lonely all the time, even today," she said in the letter. "This feeling has never gone away.”

She said she pursued Sperou’s prosecution for her children. When they read about the case in the news someday, she said, “they know that I stood up to my abuser.”

The Oregonian/OregonLive generally does not disclose the names of sexual abuse victims. But Clark wanted to be identified and so do six other women who allege Sperou abused them as children. Because the statute of limitations has passed, Sperou couldn’t be prosecuted for those allegations.

Prosecutor Melissa Marrero described Sperou as a prolific child predator who acknowledged during the trial that he abused two of the women who have accused him. She said he lacks remorse and continues to treat his victims with “disdain,” glaring at one during his trial.

“He was offending against multiple young children over the course of years and years and years,” Marrero told the judge.

Sperou led what’s now called the North Clackamas Bible Community. Former members describe the group as a cult that required them to live in a network of homes in Happy Valley and Portland, sometimes with entire families in a single bedroom and children living in closets. Former members said Sperou exercised absolute control over the food members ate, that he drank heavily and used drugs and took as much as 25 percent of their incomes as a church tax.

Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence – 170 months -- for Sperou. Marrero said a lengthy prison sentence is the only way to protect children in his group from becoming victims.

“Frankly, there is not another way to keep the community safe,” she said. “We have a horde of followers who believe he can do no wrong.”

She pointed out a preschool-aged girl in the gallery who sat two rows behind Sperou with his followers.

“It is absolutely astonishing to me that his supporters would bring a child here under such circumstances,” Marrero said.

In handing down the sentence, the judge said child abuse takes a toll on victims and the community. “The damage is irreparable,” Lavin said.

He then criticized Sperou’s supporters from the bench, calling out their decision to bring a young child to the sentencing, which included graphic descriptions of sex crimes against children.

“I think that exercises the kind of horrible judgment that ran rampant in the community that we heard about during testimony in this trial,” the judge said.

Lavin said he chose not to have the parent and child removed from the courtroom but was unhappy that the child was exposed to the disturbing material. “I don’t think it was appropriate for the child to have heard much of what was said today,” he said.

Sperou declined to speak during his sentencing. In contrast to the pressed dress shirts and ties he wore during his trial, he was brought into Lavin’s courtroom with his hands in cuffs and in a light blue jail uniform and jail-issue orange sandals.

As he was led back out of the packed courtroom, Sperou’s followers called out to him, saying goodbye and telling him they love him.

This was the second trial and sentencing for Sperou. The Oregon Supreme Court overturned his first conviction and 20-year prison sentence after concluding that witnesses shouldn’t have been allowed to refer to Sperou’s accuser by using the word “victim” during the first trial in 2015.

Sperou’s lawyers, Steve Sherlag and Michael De Muniz, said they would appeal the second guilty verdict, which was 11-1. De Muniz said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to soon declare nonunanimous jury verdicts in criminal cases in state courts unconstitutional and make that change retroactive in cases such as Sperou’s.

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