Preacher guilty on three counts

The London Free Press/November 2, 2011

The last time former pastor Royden Wood had a poor result in the London courthouse, he told reporters gathered on the front steps that "revenge" on the part of his former church flock was behind his convictions.

On Tuesday, a much different Wood, 62, quickly walked past reporters without a word, holding hands with his wife, Linda.

But for one of the three women who the jury believed was sexually assaulted by the founder and leader of the now-disbanded Ambassador Baptist Church, there was some sense of relief.

"It really helps to close a long part of my life that I'm glad to put behind me," said the 47-year-old happily married woman who disclosed to the jury her secret sexual contact with her pastor.

Wood, who now lives in Gravenhurst, was convicted Tuesday by a jury of three of five counts of sexual assault for long-term and intrusive relationships with female congregants.

The decision came after about eight hours of deliberations over two days.

Wood's bizarre two-week trial offered a peek inside the strict, closed world of the church Wood founded and operate at Adelaide and King streets until 2007.

Though there was disappointment that Wood wasn't convicted of all charges, the woman said "God knows the truth."

"I think the jury did the best that they could do under the ­circumstances. It's a hard ­circumstance to understand," she said.

"No sentencing will make up for the harm that's been done to countless other people, but we can just keep praying that God will bring him to repentance and pray for healing for his family."

The complainants described sexual activities with their pastor, often under the guise of chiropractic treatments and creative marriage counselling to make them better wives for their husbands.

While a jury never has to explain decisions, it was obvious this one rejected Wood's testimony he didn't have sex with any of the complainants and they had motives to hurt him.

The remaining issue was whether the jury believed the sex was consensual or if Wood held such a position of power and authority in the women's lives that they were unwilling but too frightened to tell him no.

The guilty verdicts involved Wood's relationships with three women. One is a 62-year old woman who said Wood was worried he gave her a virus that causes cervical cancer. Another is a 47-year old woman who told of a father-daughter relationship with the pastor and has launched a lawsuit.

"It's been eight long years" since she and her family left the church, she said. "Now I can say he did what I said he did. The justice system's proved that."

Wood was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman who carried on a flirtatious e-mail relationship with him years after the sexual encounters ended.

He also was acquitted of sexually assaulting another woman who said Wood told her "a sexual hurdle" needed to be crossed before a man and a woman could be friends.

Wood told the jury he is bi-polar and has epilepsy. He's on medication that has left him shaky. During the trial, his chin and lower lip trembled constantly while he listened to the evidence. His wife and son sat behind him.

Wood had little reaction to the verdicts when they were read. His lawyer Alison Craig said she wouldn't comment until after Wood's sentencing in January.

In 2008, Wood defended himself without a lawyer at another Superior Court trial. He was convicted of nine assault charges involving boys who attended the church's alternative school and three sexual assault charges for grabbing the breasts of two women in the church. Wood was sentenced to 11 months in jail.

The latest trial showed another layer of criminality at the church on the part of the pastor, who set himself up as the only authority and convinced followers to abide by his teachings.

The jury heard how Wood's sexual appetite was much bigger and how he was able to convince educated, committed wives to take off their clothes and participate in sex acts, including intercourse.

There were salacious details about sex at the church, at Wood's West Lorne home, in cars, vans, SUVs and in the women's homes.

The jury heard Wood wanted to help alleviate the women's back pain by pressing on "pressure points" in private areas of their bodies during his frequent treatment sessions and squeeze "toxins" out of their breasts.

There was a description that called the church was almost cult-like and the conduct described at church services was unusual.

Wood espoused his "communication program" where he encouraged men and women who were not spouses to get to know each other by going out on dates. There was a lot of hugging and back rubs during the three services a week. Wood is to be sentenced Jan. 20.

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