Pastor Posts Bond, Not Talking to Authorities

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News [Missouri]
August 27, 2006

George Otis Johnston turned himself in to authorities Friday afternoon.

Johnston came to the Newton County Sheriff's Office around 2 p.m. Friday and turned himself in.

According to Chris Jennings, chief deputy for the Newton County Sheriff's Department, Johnston came with a bail bondsman and immediately posted 10 percent of a $100,000 bond and was released. Johnston then left the sheriff's office and entered a waiting pickup truck.

"He's not talking to us at all," said Jennings.

An arriagnment for Johnston, 63, the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North in Granby, is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Johnston faces eight felony statutory sodomy counts, including seven unclassified first degree statutory sodomy charges. Newton County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Dobbs said the unclassified charges carry a term of 10 to 30 years to life in prison, while the Class C felony second degree statutory sodomy charge carries punishment of up to seven years in prison.

A total of 14 children have been removed from the church compound at 1939 Hebron Drive near East Newton High School, including 10 Thursday afternoon. The children range in age from 1 to 12 and are from three or four different families, investigators said.

The children were removed from the commune by authorities with the Missouri Division of Family Services under a court order issued by Newton County Division III Associate Circuit Court Judge Kevin Lee Selby.

On Monday, four children ranging in age from 5 to 15 were taken into protective custody from a trailer on the property.

Sheriff Ken Copeland has said while his department did not have probable cause to obtain and execute a search warrant at the property, the DFS could enter homes without a warrant if authorities believed abuse was taking place.

Jennings said investigators continue to interview witnesses in the case, including children.

"We're basically trying to win the confidence of the children," he said. "In situations like this, when they've been told one thing or another, it takes time."

Juvenile hearings will be held next week in Selby's courtroom to determine custody of the children currently in temporary protective custody. Authorities are trying to determine if parents were involved in the alleged abuse, or knew of it.

Copeland said in a recent interview it was too early to tell if additional charges will be filed against Johnston, but added that as more information is derived, it will be turned over to the prosecutor's office.

The allegations of abuse at the Granby church first came to light during the course of an investigation conducted by the McDonald County Sheriff's Department. Deputy Mike LeSueur, a child abuse investigator for the department, was looking into allegations of child sexual abuse at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, an affiliate of the Granby congregation.

LeSueur said he was he was told about abuse incidents by a former member of the McDonald County congregation, and then passed the information on to Newton County authorities.

Four leaders in the McDonald County church - Pastor Raymond Lambert, his wife, Patty Lambert, and church deacons Tom and Paul Epling, were arraigned Monday on child sexual abuse charges. Some of the incidents go back to 1977.

Bond was set for Raymond Lambert and the Eplings at $50,000 each, while Patty Epling had a $30,000 bond. All four promptly posted bond Monday afternoon at the McDonald County Jail.

A preliminary hearing has been set for 1 p.m. Oct. 2 in McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage's courtroom.

Investigators said the Granby church was an offshoot of the McDonald County congregation. Johnston is the uncle of Raymond Lambert.

A probable cause statement filed by Newton County Deputy Mike Barnett stated Johnston told a 12-year-old girl he was "ordained by God to fulfill her needs as a woman," adding "that if she would have sexual intercourse with him that she would remain a virgin and would remain pure."

In a probable cause statement filed by LeSueur, Paul Epling told a child he was "preparing her body for service to God."

About 20 people remain at the Granby commune, while two dozen are still at the McDonald County compound, authorities said.

Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church was founded by the late Cecil Epling, father to Patty Lambert and Tom and Paul Epling. Cecil Epling died in 1982 from injuries sustained in an auto accident.

According to Copeland, the McDonald County congregation split six or eight years ago, with one sect moving north to Newton County. The two churches remained close, and had some functions together, investigators said.

The Newton County church was once located in Newtonia across the street from the Ritchie Mansion. In 2002, the Newtonia Battlefields Association bought the property and tore the house down.

A second alleged victim, a 20-year-old woman, came forward with allegations that while she was living at the Granby compound as an adult, someone made sexual advances to her.

Investigators said the woman corraborated some information they had learned about the sect from other sources.


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