Book Led to Alleged Rape Recollection

By Karen Florin
The Day [New London CT]
December 9, 2006

A 15-year-old girl who alleges that former Norwich Assembly of God Pastor Charles Johnson Jr. molested her two times when she was 9 or 10 testified Friday in New London Superior Court that she disclosed the incidents to an English teacher last year as the class studied a novel about a teen who had been raped and killed.

Speaking calmly and articulately on the witness stand, the girl said that reading "The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold, had caused "some emotional difficulties."

The teacher asked the students to write an essay about the book, but the girl said she never completed the assignment. "The more I thought about it, the more it just made me sick," she said.

She said her teacher asked what was wrong and that she told her that Johnson had molested her. Teachers are so-called "mandatory reporters" of suspected sexual assault, so the girl's disclosure sparked a police investigation that ended with Johnson's arrest on charges of first-degree sexual assault and risk of injury to a minor.

Johnson, 53, denies the charges and has refused to accept a plea offer from the state that would involve a felony conviction and prison time. A jury of six is hearing evidence in the case, which is expected to last about two weeks.

Though the girl and her family have a complicated history with Johnson and his family, the jury will hear only some of the details. The girl's family had belonged to the church for most of her life. The two families socialized often, and in 2000 the girl's family lived with the Johnson family for a short period of time before moving into their own home in Norwich.

Defense Attorney Peter Bartinik Jr. successfully moved to exclude information about complaints made by the girl's mother and other adult women that led to Johnson's stepping down from the pulpit in 2002 after serving as pastor for 22 years. The church elders conducted an internal investigation that led to Johnson's resignation.

The incidents of inappropriate touching were not reported to authorities because it was considered an internal church matter, the girl's mother told police during their investigation.

Judge Stuart M. Schimelman also granted a defense motion to suppress testimony that Johnson "became teary-eyed and emotional" and "said something about a prior problem" when Norwich police Detective Patrick Mickens questioned him last year about the girl's allegations.

The 15-year-old, clad in blue jeans and a short-sleeved sweater, remained dry-eyed and composed Monday, even when prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman asked her to identify Johnson.

"He's right there," she said, flipping a hand toward Johnson, a thin man in a business suit with gray hair and a mustache.

The girl testified that Johnson assaulted her twice in the upstairs hallway of his Norwich home during "fellowship" gatherings of church members. She said the incidents occurred on different days as she was playing a hide and seek/tag game with other children as the adults talked together. On both occasions, she said she ran upstairs to get away from the person who was "it," and bumped into Johnson in a hallway that connected two stairways. Johnson put his hand up her shirt and fondled her on one occasion and put his hand in her pants the next time, she said.

"He caught me and started tickling me and pushed me down," she said. At first it was normal — Johnson had tickled her and others before, she said, — but then "he started groping me."

"I kept telling him to stop, and he wouldn't," she said.

The girl said she did not tell anyone at the party because, "I didn't want anyone to know."

The family left the church shortly after Johnson's resignation in 2001 and moved out of state. They have since relocated back to Connecticut.

The girl said she disclosed the incidents to a counselor while on a missionary trip in California. That led to her telling her parents, but police were not notified until the high school English teacher became involved.

"I told her she should report it," her father testified Monday afternoon. "She said if we told anyone, she would deny it."

The father said the girl went to counseling and was doing well when she started high school last year. Then, he said, "It was like a light switch."

The father's testimony will resume Monday. The girl's mother is also expected to testify.


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