Man Gets 29 Years in Molestations

Former cult member faced 171 years under `three strikes' law

San Francisco Chronicle, August 20, 1999
By Ken Hoover

A former member of a close-knit spiritual community described as a cult was sentenced yesterday to 29 years and 4 months in state prison for molesting four girls in his Novato apartment.

Charles Heath Foley, 42, could have been sentenced for as long as 171 years under the state's "three strikes'' law. The prosecution had asked for 118 years, and the probation officer had recommended 114.

But Marin County Superior Court Judge John Sutro said he took into account that Foley had pleaded guilty to all 72 felony counts with which he was charged and that his crimes may have been connected to depression and alcoholism.

He also noted that as far as the "three strikes'' law is concerned, Foley's two previous convictions were in relatively minor cases, a residential burglary, for which he was sentenced to 45 days in jail, and the theft of firewood, for which he was fined $150.

The judge said that while Foley has "a dark side'' and that his sentence needed to be long enough to protect the public, he believed that Foley was redeemable.

"I hope before his life is over, Mr. Foley makes himself a whole person and a contributing member of the community in the manner in which he has, to some extent, so far,'' the judge said.

Foley, a tall man wearing yellow jail clothes reserved for prisoners in protective custody, including child molesters who might be endangered by other inmates, wept as the judge pronounced sentence, wiping tears from his eyes. More than a half-dozen family members and friends occupied a row of seats in the courtroom.

Foley was charged with lewd and lascivious acts with a child and creating child pornography. He could be paroled after serving about 22 1/2 years.

Despite receiving only a fraction of the time he had asked for Foley, Deputy District Attorney Brian Stretch said he was satisfied that the sentence protected the public. Defense lawyer Douglas Horngrad said he was relieved, because it could have been much worse.

The case broke March 4, 1998, when a clerk at a Long's Drug Store reported to police that someone had brought in a roll of 35mm film for processing that contained child pornography.

When officers went to his apartment with a search warrant, Foley refused to open the door, and officers had to force their way in. They seized hundreds of Polaroid photos depicting children and Foley in sexual poses and acts.

The investigation by Novato police revealed that the four girls, between 9 and 12 years old, either lived in or visited the apartment complex where Foley lived. In one case, a 14-year-old boy took sexually explicit photos and videos of Foley with his 9-year-old sister. The children's mother told officers that she had been forced to leave her children alone for extended periods because she has had several operations for cancer and that her children "had to grow up rather quickly.''

She told investigators she knew Foley was taking pictures of her daughter but thought that would help her start a modeling career. Two girls spent the night in Foley's apartment.

Defense documents say Foley grew up with an alcoholic and abusive father and came to California in 1975 to find "love, peace and spiritual development.''

He spent 18 years with Brother John's spiritual community, headed by John Panama. The defense described the group as a cult. The group, which volunteered for such work as painting homes and repairing sewers for Watsonville immigrant workers, had a stated purpose, according to defense documents, to "love God and serve people.''

Foley's mother, Frances Shore of Wilmington, N.C., wrote the judge a letter, saying he found acceptance in the group, "not realizing because of his immaturity that he was being misguided and manipulated.'' He was married for two years, but divorced when he left the group and his wife stayed in.

For the past several years, he has lived in a Novato trailer and apartment, supported by $20,000 a year from his mother and grandmother, court records say.

A probation report said many people have Foley's troubled childhood, and it fails to explain his crimes. The report says he caused his victims serious emotional problems. And, a probation officer added, Brother John's group did not sound all that harmful.

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