Sex Abuse Charge against Former Norwich Pastor Unbelievable, Neighbor Says

By Greg Smith
Norwich Bulletin
December 14, 2006

Norwich -- Former Norwich church pastor Charles Johnson Jr. has no shortage of support -- as evidenced this week by the number of character witnesses testifying in his defense.

The defense rested its case Wednesday after five more people took the stand in New London Superior Court to paint a picture of a man who befriended scores of families and children during his years in Norwich.

Alisha Malerba, neighbors with the Johnsons for 13 years and friends with Charles Johnson's daughter, said the charges are simply unbelievable.

"He was like a second father to me," she said from the stand Wednesday in court.

Malerba was one of 17 people who came to speak in Johnson's defense during the past two days, testifying to his "sexual appropriateness with children." Another witness said her daughter attended day care at the Johnsons' Norwich home.

Johnson, the former head at Norwich Assembly of God, is accused of molesting a young girl at his home on two occasions. Now 15, the girl claims the incidents took place when she was 9 or 10.

Marianne Malerba of Waterford, mother of Alisha Malerba, said the allegations already have devastated the Johnson family.

"I believe the Johnsons' attitude is the truth will come out. They believe in faith of God," she said.

While there is no physical evidence linking Johnson to the crime, jurors will consider testimony by the alleged victim, along with her parents.

The jury is being shielded from previous claims of inappropriate conduct by the alleged victim's mother, hearing only the alleged victim's story. Charges by her mother and others led to an internal investigation by the church and eventually to Johnson's resignation after 22 years.

Prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman cross-examined just one witness Wednesday, asking how she could have any knowledge of "Mr. Johnson's sexual behavior with children," when such things do not often occur in public.

Reach Greg Smith at 425-4219 or


  • The six-member jury is expected to start deliberations today, after closing arguments.


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