Johnston Bound over in Mac

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News
November 9, 2006

Pineville - George Otis Johnston was bound over for trial this morning on a felony charge of child molestation in McDonald County.

An arraignment has been set for 10 a.m. Nov. 21 in McDonald County Circuit Court in Pineville. Judge Timothy Perigo will preside.

McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage issued the ruling this morning after hearing testimony from a 17-year-old woman who alleged Johnston gave her "the holy kiss" - a French kiss - and groped her breasts, buttocks and vagina areas through her clothes on several occasions before and after services at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in Powell.

Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert, is pastor of the McDonald County Church, and the Granby man's church is an offshoot of the McDonald County congregation.

The woman said she and her family went to the McDonald County church several times a month, adding Johnston also attended services there most Sundays. The witness said the incidents began in 2000, when she was 11 years old and stopped when she stopped going to the McDonald County church late last year.

The woman testified several other church members were present, and many of the younger women in the church also received the "holy kiss" during this time.

"Did he ever ask you to serve a spiritual function?" asked Dan Bagley, assistant prosecuting attorney for McDonald County.

"What do you mean?" the woman replied.

"Did he ever ask you to be one of his angels?" Bagley asked.

"Yes," the woman replied.

"What did he mean by that?" the assistant prosecutor asked.

"By having an intimate relationship with him, I was supposed to get closer to God," the young woman testified.

Under cross examination by defense attorney Andy Wood, the woman said between 50 and 100 other church members were present when many of the incidents took place.

Wood asked her if she saw this happen to anyone else, and the witness named several other young women, and two young men, who also received the "holy kiss" before or after church services.

"Did he grope their bottoms?" Wood asked.

"I don't know if he groped them, but I know for a fact that he gave them the holy kiss," the witness replied.

"Were their other women?" Wood asked. "Anyone over 40?"

"I guess a few," the young woman replied.

"Would he touch other girls on their breasts?" Wood asked later.

"I'm not sure, but I know he gave the holy kiss," the witness replied.

"Did you ever see him touch their vagina area?" Wood asked.

"I saw the holy kiss," she replied.

"That's it?" Wood asked, to which the witness answered "yes."

The woman said Johnston brushed his hands all over her while performing the kiss.

"Did he say anything provocative?" Wood asked.

"He said 'When are you going to be one of my angels?' " she replied, adding being intimate with him was a way for followers to be closer to God.

During a preliminary hearing Sept. 18, the woman testified she was first sent to Johnston's trailer by her mother at the age of 8 while they lived at a church commune in Newtonia to receive counsel about shaving her legs. She said she was sent to his trailer several times a week while in Newtonia and later when the group moved to their present compound near East Newton High School, adding that Johnston would touch her beneath her clothes several times a week during those visits.

The woman also testified the pastor later told her he was ordained by God and it would tarnish her if she slept with another man.

"But if I slept with him, I would remain pure," she testified Johnston told her, adding she did not have sexual intercourse with the pastor.

Wood also tried to find contradictions between this morning's testimony and that the young woman gave during the Sept. 18 court proceeding. He asked if she had testified that fondling incidents took place three to five times a day in Newton County, to which the witness replied she had said the incidents took place three to five times a week while she was living at church communes in Newtonia and Granby, "except when George was on a hunting trip or vacation."

Wood also questioned whether the witness was telling the "absolute truth" when she talked to Newton County investigator Mike Barnett and a interviewer with the Children's Center on Aug. 17. The woman replied she had.

"Do you remember telling [the Children's Center interviewer] that you stood up at church on Hebron Road and told the congregation what had been going on?" Wood asked.

"No," the witness replied.

"When was it that you stood up in church and told everybody?" Wood later asked.

"I didn't," the witness replied.

Pre-trial conferences have been set in the Newton County case for Dec. 4 and Feb. 23.

Johnston is also set to be arraigned at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Circuit Court Judge Timothy Perigo's Division I courtroom in Neosho nine felony child abuse charges stemming from allegations made by a 20-year-old former church member.

The woman alleges Johnston fondled her breasts and genitals at least once a week for several years while she was a child. She said some of the alleged contact took place while he was tutoring the girl in algebra. She said she considered the pastor to be her grandfather - although the two are not related - as he was the spiritual leader of the community.

Johnston is one of six church leaders in two area churches facing child sexual abuse charges, including sodomy, rape, child molestation and child endangerment.

Those charged include Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert, 51; his wife, Patty Lambert, 49; two church deacons, Paul Epling, 53, and Tom Epling, 51, who are Patty Lambert's brothers; and Tom Epling's wife, Laura Epling, age unavailable.

Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel is presiding in those cases, which have not been bound over for trial. Stremel is currently reviewing legal documents in the cases against the Lamberts, while the Eplings' cases are pending a Missouri Supreme Court decision on an unrelated case.

Seven felony counts were recently dropped against the Epling brothers after the defense argued that state law at the time of some of the alleged offenses imposed a statute of limitations on some of the charges. The brothers were accused of child sexual abuse incidents dating back to 1977. Five felony counts remain.


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