Sex-Abuse Case Takes New Turn

Article excerpt

What may be the largest sex. abuse case in American history isn't over yet. Defendants found not guilty are countersuing, even as old accusations fly.

For years, members of a church in Wenatchee, Wash., were subjected to a police investigation into a sex-abuse ring that sent two dozen people to jail and 40 children to foster or group homes.

Today, the accused are doing the accusing. Twelve of those charged with child rape and molestation have filed lawsuits against the local government, police and state Child Protective Services contending they were the victims of a "witch-hunt" that trampled their civil liberties and left their lives in tatters.

The most explosive case involves Robert "Roby" Roberson, pastor of the Pentecostal Church of God; his wife, Connie; and eight others who were found not guilty or had charges against them dismissed or reduced. Filed in the state Superior Court, the lawsuit charges local and state officials with civil-rights violations for pursuing the sex-ring charges despite evidence of witness tampering and police misconduct.

A second lawsuit has been filed in federal court by Robert Devereaux, who was accused of molesting his foster daughters. Charges against him were dropped, but not before he moved to another town to avoid harassment.

And two caseworkers with Child Protective Services, Paul Glasson and Juana Vasquez, have filed a wrongful-dismissal suit, claiming they were fired after questioning the agency's role in the sex-ring probe.

The Roberson trial, tentatively scheduled for next year, has been moved to the Seattle area to avoid juror or judicial bias. But the same problems that plagued the police investigation -- accusations that Det. Robert Perez had coerced witnesses who later recanted their statements -- are muddying pretrial preparations.

The actual investigation appears to have ended last October when Kerri Ann Knowles Hill, a 43-year-old mother accused of raping five children accepted a plea bargain in which she agreed not to sue her accusers in return for dismissal of all charges. Hill was among the 46 residents arrested and 28 charged with child molestation as part of what has been called the largest child sex-ring case in American history. Fourteen of those pleaded guilty, five were convicted and six saw their charges greatly reduced or dismissed. Three were acquitted by juries.

As prosecutors described it, the participants would meet at the church and subject children to ritualistic sexual abuse. Roberson was said to conduct "youth nights" in which he would strip children and pass them around to adults.

But the case has been denounced by critics nationwide, who say the entire scenario was cooked up by "an obsessed Perez, aided by overzealous social workers and abetted by unquestioning prosecutors," as the Seattle Times put it. …