Johnston faces 17 charges total

Neosho Daily News, Missouri/September 13, 2006
By John Ford

More details on nine additional child sexual abuse charges against a Southwest Missouri pastor have come to light.

George Otis Johnston, 63, the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church in rural Granby, now faces a total of 17 sexual abuse charges, including 14 unclassified felony counts of statutory sodomy with someone under the age of 12, and three Class C counts of second degree statutory sodomy.

An arrest warrant has been issued for the new counts, but Newton County Sheriff Ken Copeland said his office had not received the warrant as of mid-morning today, although he expected to receive it within the next few hours.

“Who knows where he's at,” the sheriff said. “I imagine what will happen is it will be the same as last time: His attorney will bring him in.”

Last month, Johnston went to the Newton County Jail accompanied by his attorney, Andy Wood, and a bail bondsman and turned himself in to authorities. He then posted 10 percent of a $100,000 bond. According to Bill Dobbs, assistant prosecutor, that bond will stand under the new charges as well, meaning Johnston will not have to post another surety bond.

The new charges stem from allegations lodged by a woman, now 20, that Johnston touched her sexually while he was supposed to be tutoring her in algebra from February 1997 until December 2004, according to a probable cause statement filed by Dwayne Allen, an investigator with the Newton County Sheriff's Department.

Allen said he and Mike Barnett, another sheriff's office investigator, were interviewing four children Aug. 21 at the Children's Center in Joplin in connection with a previous child sex abuse investigation against Johnston.

Afterward, he said, an older sibling of one of the children gave a taped statement as to her sexual involvement with Johnston.

The woman told investigators the abuse started in 1997, when she was 11 years old. Johnston allegedly touched the girl's bare breasts and genitals during each tutoring session, the probable cause statement reads.

“[She] disclosed that Johnston told her that she was not having a problem with her algebra, she was having a spiritual problem and he would show her what she needed,” Allen said in the statement. “[She] said Johnston told her she was approaching the age where she would have needs that can be filled by a man.”

The girl told investigators Johnston told her he could fulfill these needs and that she needed to become one of his “angels.”

“[She] said when Johnston would touch her, he would tell her that it wouldn't make her impure, that it would make her holy and she would remain as pure as a virgin, even after she married.”

“Allegedly, this occurred prior to this group moving to the Granby compound, while Mr. Johnston lived in Newtonia and this girl's family lived next door,” Dobbs said. “This was all part of the same church group and at that time, Mr. Johnston was the spiritual adviser.

“It certainly had religious overtones. He said he was cleansing her of her impurities.”

The girl said she never allowed Johnston to have sexual intercourse with her but allowed him to touch her as he told her this would make her closer to God.

According to the criminal complaint filed by the Newton County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, the incidents happened in January 1998, the spring, summer and fall of 1998, the spring, summer and fall of 1999, the summer of 2000 and the summer of 2001.

“These sexual assaults occurred on about a twice a week basis,” said Dobbs. “We filed charges on only a portion of these events, as they were too numerous to accurately charge.”

The girl was being home-schooled by Johnston's daughter, Shelley Johnston. Dobbs said it is unknown if she referred her student to her father for math tutoring, or if Mr. Johnston decided the girl needed tutoring.

Johnston is one of five church leaders in two counties charged with sexually abusing girls. All five have entered not guilty pleas and are free on bond.

Facing charges in McDonald County are Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert; Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert; and her brothers, Paul and Tom Epling. Patty Lambert is also Raymond Lambert's step-sister, and the Epling brothers are his step-brothers.

Lambert is the pastor of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located on a 100-acre compound near Powell. The Granby church is an offshoot of the McDonald County congregation, and the two churches occasionally have joint services, investigators said.

The woman reportedly left the Granby church to join the McDonald County congregation, as she was assured the acts Johnston performed on her were not part of that church's practices, Dobbs said. When the woman found out differently, she and her husband left that church as well. She and her husband left the Grand Valley congregation in April.

Dobbs said the 20-year-old is a sister of the first person to come forward, a 17-year-old.

The McDonald County church leaders will be in court at 1 p.m. Oct. 2 in Pineville for a preliminary hearing before McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage.

An arraignment on the new charges against Johnston has been set for 1:15 Monday in Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel's courtroom. At that time, a preliminary hearing will also be held regarding Johnston's eight previous statutory sodomy charges.

Earlier that day, an adult abuse hearing will be held in Pineville with Judge LePage presiding. One of Johnston's accusers, a 17-year-old woman, has filed for an ex parte order of protection against the Granby pastor.

Last Wednesday, Wood filed a motion to dismiss the first set of charges or to order prosecutors to provide a “bill of particulars” to provide more information about the allegations. This motion could likely be argued during Monday's hearings.

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