Johnston Trial Delayed

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News [Neosho MO]
February 22, 2007

George Otis Johnston will not be going to trial next week as planned.

Johnston, 63, the pastor of Grandview Valley Independent Baptist Church in Granby, faces 17 counts of child sexual abuse in Newton County.

Jury selection was to have gotten under way Friday in Cass County, with jurors bused to Neosho Monday and sequestered for the duration of the trial.

The presiding judge in the case, Judge Timothy Perigo, said Thursday morning the trial was delayed because of a prosecution request for a continuance.

Bill Dobbs, Newton County assistant prosecutor, said the state had asked for a continuance after a defense motion to sequester a Cass County jury over the weekend was denied.

"The state asked for the continuance to allow for additional discovery, to interview potential witnesses and for trial preparation," Dobbs said.

Jury selection was originally set for Friday in Cass County, with jurors then being bused to Neosho on Monday, where Johnston's trial would begin in the afternoon. After he denied the defense's request for sequestration over the weekend, Dobbs said Perigo suggested jury selection be held Monday morning, with trial to commence that afternoon.

However, Dobbs said, Cass County officials said there would be no facilities available for the selection process Monday.

According to Dobbs, the trial will be held sometime during a 30-day window between mid-May and mid-June. A definite trial date has not been set as of late Thursday morning.

In Newton County, Johnston is accused of a total of nine felony counts of first degree statutory sodomy; six felony charges of second degree statutory sodomy; and two felony counts of child molestation.

Two sisters, now ages 17 and 20, allege Johnston sexually abused them when they were children. The 17-year-old testified the abuse began when she was 8, continuing until she left the compound shortly after her last birthday. The young woman said while the family was living on a church commune in Newtonia, she was sent to Johnston's trailer by her mother to receive counseling about shaving her legs. Subsequently, she was sent to Johnston's trailer several times a week both in Newtonia and later when the group moved to Granby. During these visits, the woman said, Johnston would touch her beneath her clothing.

The woman testified when she was older, the pastor told her he was ordained by God and it would tarnish her if she slept with another man. But if she slept with him, she would remain pure. She said she did not have sexual intercourse with Johnston.

The 20-year-old has testified Johnston fondled her while she was a child, with some of the alleged contact taking place while he was supposed to be tutoring the girl in algebra. She added she considered the pastor to be her grandfather because, although the two are not related, he was the spiritual leader of their community.

Johnston also faces a Class A felony charge of child molestation in McDonald County. The 17-year-old alleged that Johnston French kissed her and groped her through her clothes on several occasions before and after services at the Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in Powell. The woman said her family and Johnston attended services at the church several times a month. Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert, is the pastor of the McDonald County church, and his church is an offshoot of the Powell-area congregation.

Lambert and his wife, Patty, face child sexual abuse charges as well. Raymond Lambert has been charged with three Class C felony counts of second degree statutory sodomy and four Class D felony charges of second degree child molestation, as he allegedly acted in concert with his wife in molesting a girl under the age of 17.

Patty Lambert faces a charge of second degree statutory sodomy, as does the wife of a church deacon, Laura Epling.

Raymond and Patty Lambert will next appear in court June 5 for a trial-setting pre-trial conference. Meanwhile, Laura Epling will be back in court for a pre-trial conference March 13.

Another church leader, deacon Paul Epling, will be in court Monday morning for a hearing on a felony rape charge. A woman - now 35 years old - alleges the deacon raped her in 1977.

On Jan. 29, Newton County Division II Associate Circuit Court Judge Greg Stremel took the charge under advisement, pending judicial review of state statutes.


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