Illegal activities of sects

Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights April 13, 1999
by Mr Adrian Nastase

In front of a packed courtroom Thursday an Everett-based religious leader was sentenced to 90 days in jail for spanking a young female church member until the paddle broke.

Michael M. Follett, 49, pleaded guilty in April to one count of third-degree assault. Follett is the leader of a group formerly called the Liberty and Freedom Church.

The group still exists and many supporters and some opponents attended his sentencing.

"It's a very troubling case," Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Larry McKeeman said.

The assault left the young woman bloody, bruised and with a swollen face, McKeeman said.

It was a "brutal assault, humiliating experience," McKeeman added. "And I don't think it stretches the point to call it sadistic. I believe it's the type of action that demands jail time."

Liberty and Freedom became the focus of a criminal investigation in 1997 after some members told police they'd been beaten and otherwise abused.

Follett entered an Alford plea, allowing him to deny wrongdoing while still pleading guilty in order to accept the prosecution's plea offer. In exchange, the prosecution dropped more serious charges of child molestation and indecent liberties.

According to court papers, Follett professed to be a prophet of God and required members of his church to work in church-run businesses or, in the case of many female members, sell Mary Kay cosmetics.

Follett's attorney, Royce Ferguson, asked the judge to spare his client any jail time, citing numerous letters of praise from family and friends, including the victim.

McKeeman said he read every letter, but they did not dismiss the guilty plea Follett made.

Follett's wife stood up alone in the back of the courtroom as her husband was being sentenced.

When the sentence was announced, one woman said, "All right," and was quickly hushed by the judge.

Many cried as Follett was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and back to the jail to begin serving time. Follett may be eligible for a 30-day work release program after serving 60 days in jail, McKeeman said. McKeeman also sentenced Follett to 12 months community supervision upon his release from jail and ordered him not to have any contact with his victim for five years.

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