A Corona group home pastor and two associates accused of physically assaulting a 13-year-old boy and forcing him to dig his own grave as a way of disciplining him were charged today with child abuse and other felonies.
Nicholas James Craig, 22, Darryll Duane Jeter, 28, and Lonny Lee Remmers, 54 — all of Corona — were arraigned this afternoon before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan.
Craig and Jeter each pleaded not guilty to kidnapping, torture, making criminal threats, false imprisonment and three counts each of inflicting corporal injury on a child and assault resulting in great bodily injury.
They could face up to 19 years in prison if convicted.
Remmers pleaded not guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse. He faces seven years behind bars if found guilty.
Dugan set a felony settlement conference in the case for April 19.
Craig and Jeter are each being held in lieu of $150,000 bail — the latter at the downtown Riverside jail, the former at the Banning detention facility. Remmers is being held in lieu of $35,000 bail at the Riverside jail.
The defendants were arrested Friday following an investigation by Corona police. The boys 30-year-old mother told investigators that she took her son to the Heart of Worship group home in the 700 block of West 10th Street on March 18 seeking guidance, according to investigators.
"She (the mother) came to the group home … trying to straighten out her son, I guess, who was accused of molesting another kid," Corona police Sgt. Scott Currie said.
Remmers is the director of the home, which provides counseling and other services.
"Our mission at the Heart of Worship is to raise the church body to be true disciples of Christ, meaning that if Christ would not think it, say it, or do it, neither will we," the church says on its website.
Detectives allege that, at Remmers' request, Craig and Jeter — both residents of the home — drove the boy to Barstow to "scare" him.
"Once there, the two men forced the boy to dig his own grave with a shovel and get inside while threatening to kill him," said District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall. "The men threw dirt on him and beat him with a belt to keep him in when he tried to climb out."
The boy was later taken to Remmers' residence and was assaulted by the pastor, who allegedly used a pair of pliers to clamp the youth's nipples "while the victim cried and screamed for him to stop," Hall said, adding that the victim was also zip-tied to a chair and pepper-sprayed in the face.
The teenager, who did not require hospitalization, and his 7-year-old sister were taken into custody by Riverside County Child Protective Services.