Delays keep wounds open: Mother of boy allegedly sexually abused by Timothy Probert speaks of losing faith in justice system
By Samantha Perry
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
March 6, 2016
|Bluefield Daily Telegraph|
Photo by Jon Bolt
PRINCETON — The mother of a boy who was allegedly sexually abused by a church youth volunteer is losing faith in the justice system after the case has dragged on in the courts for more than two years.
The woman, who was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph on the condition of anonymity, is the mother of one of nine victims allegedly molested by Timothy Probert, a former volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield and mentor for the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect (WE CAN) program in Mercer County.
“It keeps the wounds open and prevents us from healing like we need to be able to do,” the mother said. “How unfair is it that the victims have almost no say in any part of the process? We just have to wait for someone else to decide when this terrible time in our lives can come to an end.”
Probert, 57, of Mercer County, is facing 50 charges relating to alleged sexual abuse of children.
Arrested in December 2013 on 38 counts of child sexual abuse related charges, Probert’s grand jury indictment in February 2015 included 12 new charges that stemmed from another victim coming forward and additional charges being added in other cases, Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police, said in a previous report.
The charges in the indictment include 27 counts of sexual abuse by a custodian, 17 counts of first-degree sexual abuse, three counts of third-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree sexual assault, one count of first-degree sexual assault and one count of delivery of a Schedule IV controlled substance.
Clemons said all of the victims, who were male, were young teens when the alleged abuse occurred between 1986 and 2010.
The mother of the victim interviewed by the Daily Telegraph said she learned of the abuse from her son.
“He had heard that Tim Probert’s sexual abuse of other boys had become known by the church Probert attended, so he decided to tell what had happened to him,” she said.
The disclosure left her feeling angry and betrayed.
“I would have felt angry and betrayed no matter who the person was, but the fact that it was someone from a church made it even worse. Probert had spent a long time earning the trust of victims and their parents. It’s hard to say how many lies he told to convince people in the church that he was really the person he claimed to be. He’s the best example I’ve ever known of someone living a double life. He pretended to be a friend to his victims and their parents. He violated children under the disguise of being a Christian. I can’t think of any worse betrayal.”
The mother said the abuse has brought “horrible emotional pain.”
“As a parent, I’ve felt a lot of guilt — like it’s my fault that Probert hurt my child. Good parents protect their kids, but I didn’t protect mine.”
She said when her mind starts going in this cycle, she remembers the “disguise” that Probert wore. “That’s when I can stop blaming myself and realize that it wasn’t my fault.”
The many delays in the case has caused the family to start losing trust in the justice system.
“We believe the people on our side are doing a good job, like Sgt. Clemons and all the people in the prosecutor’s office, but it seems like the system allows too many ways for guilty people to keep things dragging on,” the mother said. “I know the law says that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but Probert confessed to the police that he did these things to my son and to other children. Why was he ever allowed to be home after his arrest?”
During a preliminary hearing in February 2014 on the charges, Clemons provided graphic testimony of the alleged acts, which included “mutual masturbation” between Probert and the victims, as well as oral and anal sex.
She testified that the youths would come to Probert’s house, where he would give them alcohol and provide them with heterosexual pornographic movies. “They would watch them together ... and engage in mutual masturbation.”
Some victims were made to perform oral sex on Probert, and he would perform oral sex on them, Clemons said during the preliminary hearing.
She also testified that Probert sexually assaulted some of the victims by performing anal sex on them. “One (victim) performed anal sex on Probert.”
During the earlier hearing, Clemons was asked about the accuracy of the victims’ memories regarding their ages at the time the alleged abuse occurred. She explained that many of the youths could tie the time of the incidents with other events in their lives, such as having braces or getting a driver’s license.
Clemons’ investigation into Probert’s alleged acts began when she was contacted by Westminster Presbyterian Pastor Jonathan Rockness about an initial incident. At that point, there was not enough evidence for authorities to pursue criminal action, so church leaders began their own investigation.
After more allegations were revealed during the church’s query, Clemons was able to move forward with a criminal investigation.
In a previous statement, Rockness noted Probert was never employed by the church but had volunteered in various capacities, including youth trips that required chaperones.
In a statement issued after Probert’s indictment, Rockness said, “We are very thankful for our public servants who are seeking truth and justice, and we continue to pray for truth and justice to prevail.”
He said the church also encourages survivors of abuse to come forward, whether it is related to this case or another abusive situation. “We also consider those who do come forward with truthful allegations of abuse to be heroes, deserving the utmost respect.”
A special judge was called in to try Probert’s case in February 2015 after Mercer County Circuit Court judges Omar Aboulhosn, Derek Swope and William “Bill” Saddler recused themselves citing conflicts of interest.
Retired Fayette County Judge Charles Vickers was appointed to the case.
In December 2015 a pre-trial hearing was held to hear arguments for a defense motion to dismiss the charges based on a claim that Pastor Rockness violated the priest-penitent privilege. That motion was denied in an order filed Feb. 17.
Additional motions were filed in the case last month, including one questioning whether Probert was a “person in a position of trust” or a “custodian” of the children.
No ruling has yet been made on this motion.
Probert is currently on home confinement. He was placed on house arrest after a March 2014 hearing in which a man testified Probert propositioned him for sex when he went to Probert’s Bluefield home seeking to do yard work or other general labor.
Probert’s trial date has been scheduled for April 18.
Meanwhile, the mother of the victim offers the following advice to other parents.
“My advice is to listen to any little voice in your head that says something isn’t right because that voice might be there for a reason,” she said. “I sort of thought Probert seemed odd. I thought it was strange that a man who had chosen not to marry early enough in life to have his own kids was so interested in young boys. I got taken in by his Christian mentor act. If I could go back, I would listen to that little voice and not worry about whose feelings got hurt. I would have kept my son away from him. There were plenty of other places in the church and community that were safe. I should have steered my son toward those places and people.”
The mother hopes the courage of these victims will inspire other victims of abuse to speak up.
“It’s really painful,” she said. “To think that the rest of my family has had to feel the same emotions makes it even more painful. Answering these questions is painful because it makes me face it all over again, but if my answers help anyone else, it’s worth the pain.”