Court Maintains Protective Order

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News
August 29, 2006

Pineville - A temporary order of protection remains in effect against a Newton County pastor accused of sexual abuse.

On Monday, McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage ruled a full order of protection would be granted for a 17-year-old Anderson teen accusing George Otis Johnson of sexually abusing her. The order would have remained in effect for a year.

However, LePage set the ruling aside after meeting with Johnston's attorney, Andy Wood of Neosho. Wood requested the order be set aside pending a 9 a.m., Sept. 18, adult abuse hearing.

LePage ruled the temporary order of protection would remain in effect until that hearing.

Johnston, 63, pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, located at 1939 Hebron Road in rural Granby, faces seven unclassified felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy and one Class C felony charge of second degree statutory sodomy. An arraignment has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel's courtroom. If convicted, Johnston could face 10 to 30 years to life in prison on the unclassified felony charges, and up to seven years in prison on the Class C felony count.

Johnston turned himself in last Friday afternoon and posted a $100,000 bond.

A total of 14 children have been removed from the church compound 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 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.

Early last week, 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.

On Tuesday, the sheriff said investigators were still interviewing the children and looking into more possible charges against Johnston.

"At this time, we don't have anything to take to the prosecutor, but at some point, we anticipate that we will," Copeland said.

Child custody hearings were held Monday, with two attorneys representing the children requesting a change of judge, according to Cathy Gorham, chief juvenile officer for the county.

"In another case, the children will remain in protective care, and we will be conducting additional interviews with the children in a couple of the cases," Gorham said.

The girl told authorities Johnston began abusing her when she was 8 years old, with the pastor kissing and touching her. According to a probable cause statement filed by Deputy Mike Barnett, a child abuse investigator with the Newton County Sheriff's Department, at the age of 12, the girl said Johnston told her 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."

The Granby church is an offshoot of the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, located near Washburn, where four church leaders have pleaded not guilty to child sexual abuse charges dating back to 1977.

In that case, Deputy Mike LeSueur, a child abuse investigator for the McDonald County Sheriff's Department, said one of the church leaders told a child he was "preparing her body for service to God."

A second person, a 20-year-old woman, has come forward with allegations that while she was living at the Granby commune as an adult, someone made sexual advances toward her. The woman corroborated some information they learned about the sect from other sources, investigators said.

Facing child abuse charges in McDonald County are Pastor Raymond Lambert, his wife, Patty Lambert, and church deacons Tom and Paul Epling. The church was founded by the Eplings father, the late Cecil Epling, who died from injuries sustained in an auto accident in 1982.

Johnston is the uncle of Raymond Lambert, investigators have said.

The McDonald County church officials will appear at 1 p.m. Oct. 2 for a preliminary hearing. The proceeding will be held in LePage's courtroom in Pineville.

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


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