Johnston Hearing Reset

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News [Missouri]
November 13, 2006

Originally set for this morning, an arraignment for George Otis Johnston has been postponed.

Johnston, 63, the pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church, was to appear in Newton County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Perigo's Division I courtroom at 9:30 a.m. for the proceeding.

However, neither he, nor attorney Andy Wood, were in the courtroom at this time.

Called by the court, Wood came to the courtroom shortly before 10 a.m., telling the judge he was not notified by Newton County Division III Associate Circuit Court Judge Kevin Lee Selby of the court date.

Perigo then set an arraignment for 10 a.m. Nov. 21 in McDonald County, where Johnston will also be arraigned on a Class A felony charge of first degree child molestation. Perigo is presiding in both cases.

Monday's hearing would have focused on two felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy, five felony counts of second degree statutory sodomy, and two felony child molestation charges. The nine counts are based on allegations made by a 20-year-old former member of his church.

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.

The witness said she considered Johnston to be her grandfather - although the two are not related - as he was the spiritual leader of the community.

"He told me I needed to become one of his angels," the woman testified in an Oct. 16 preliminary hearing. "He said this was a way he would take care of me. He told me not to worry, that the Virgin Mary was not really a virgin when she had the Christ child, that a man of God had impregnated her, and he was a man of God."

The case was reassigned after Kevin Lee Selby recused himself to avoid the appearance of impropriety, according to court documents.

This was the second time Selby took himself off of a case involving Johnston. The first came in late September, and involved eight felony sexual abuse charges, including seven unclassified counts of first degree sodomy.

Those charges stemmed from allegations made by a 17-year-old former church member, who said Johnston sexually abused her from the time she was 8 until she left the Granby commune shortly after her last birthday.

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.

The woman has also alleged Johnston gave her a "holy kiss" - a French kiss - and groped her through her clothes on several occasions before and after services at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in Powell. She said her family and Johnston attended services in the offshoot of the Granby church several times a month. Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert, is the pastor of the McDonald County church.

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 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 that case after McDonald County Associate Circuit Court Judge John LePage was disqualified. The McDonald County cases have not been bound over for trial, as 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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