|Jerome Preacher Charged with Battery
By Cass Friedman
September 8, 2007
JEROME - The Rev. Ron Matheney, pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church, preaches to large audiences on almost any subject. Last year he even gave the keynote speech at the College of Southern Idaho's Martin Luther King Jr. Day memorial.
But Friday afternoon, in the pastor's study he restrains himself to a conspicuous silence when asked about the one subject that seems to concern him most - felony charges that he beat his now-estranged wife, Darlene.
"It sounds bad," Matheney said. "I believe that if the truth is told it will be dropped - that is, if politics don't become involved."
For two years, Matheney has led the 100-member First Presbyterian, a century-old brick church in downtown Jerome. On Aug. 28 the county prosecutor filed one charge of felony domestic battery alleging that Matheney caused "traumatic injury," one of felony attempted strangulation and a misdemeanor charge of removing the phone to prevent Darlene from calling police in the early morning hours of Aug. 14.
Even today, Matheney confines his reaction to the dispute as a private fluster. He hasn't addressed the case from the pulpit in hope that the stormy controversy - which he calls a matter stemming from a messy divorce - stays inside the courthouse. So far, Matheney has kept the issue from reaching local church leaders, including. Kevin Anderson, a member of a Presbytery committee that can hire and fire pastors, said Friday that he had not heard about the charges.
Darlene told authorities the abuse was long-term, though she kept it quiet. But last spring, according to court records, she called in sick to her job at St. Benedict's Family Medical Center. When co-workers went to her home to check on her, they found her wrapped in a blanket, with bruises on her neck and arms.
"Darlene asked (us) not to say anything to anyone," Jo Hawk, a co-worker at St. Ben's, later told Jerome County Undersheriff Jocelyne Nunnally. She declined comment when contacted by the Times-News.
Darlene's co-workers told Nunnally that they tried to persuade Darlene to call police, but that she refused because her of her husband's prominence and influence in the community. Darlene is now staying with friends and could not be reached for comment.
But on Aug. 24, Nunnally learned that Darlene had been granted a judicial order that would prohibit her then-estranged husband from contacting her. Nunnally approached Darlene, asking why she hadn't also called police.
Darlene "started crying and said that she had not because she didn't want the church to get involved," Nunnally wrote in an affidavit.
By Darlene's account, the events of Aug. 14 grew from unprovoked acts of aggression by her husband.
Darlene claims that the incident began when Ron woke her in the middle of the night and forced her to have sex. She says he beat her, knocked a telephone away when she tried to use it to call for help and threw her against a wall and onto the floor. He put his foot on her neck and said she couldn't leave. When she tried to fight back, he choked her with a belt and, according to the police affidavit, "threatened to stomp her in the ground" if she told.
She said that when he allowed her to leave, she drove to St. Ben's for treatment, but sat for 45 minutes without going in because she was too embarrassed.
But Ron told Nunnally that Darlene threw the first punch - though he admits that she was indeed resisting his sexual advances. He said he thought her reluctance was just part of a game until she hit him.
"That's when I realized this is crazy, what are we doing?" he told Nunnally. "I thought maybe I could make her do it â€- but she didn't want to, so it just got physical from there."
He acknowledges that they fought and that he twice punched her, but he maintains that Darlene was the aggressor, that he never choked her or kept her from calling for help.
And he stands by his decision to try to keep his legal problems out of his sermons and away from his flock.
"This is not a church issue," he said. "This is a court issue, a criminal issue. It's that thing about if you can hang the preacherâ€-the natural thing is to feel the woman has been the victim. And I think everyone has been doing their job. But when we're in court and the evidence is out, that's when you have to let the evidence in. You have to be objective."
He remains free on a $50,000 bond pending a Sept. 21 preliminary hearing.
Cass Friedman may be reached at 735-3241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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