Former Church Youth Volunteer Pleads Guilty to Sexual Abuse, Facing 171-489 Years in Prison
By Samantha Perry
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
April 18, 2016
A former Bluefield church youth volunteer pleaded guilty Monday morning to charges he sexually abused teen boys.
Timothy Probert, 57, of Princeton, pleaded guilty to 37 charges, including first-degree sexual abuse, third-degree sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, first-degree sexual assault, sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian and one count of delivery of a controlled substance.
Probert, a former youth volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church and mentor for the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect (WE CAN) program, entered the plea before retired Fayette County Judge Charles Vickers.
Vickers was appointed to the case last year after Mercer County Circuit Court judges Omar Aboulhosn, Derek Swope and William “Bill” Sadler recused themselves citing conflicts of interest.
Probert originally faced 50 charges relating to the sexual abuse of children. His trial was scheduled to begin Monday.
“Although it is natural to assume that Probert pled pursuant to a plea agreement, there was no plea agreement,” Mercer County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ash said. “In final preparation for trial, (assistant prosecutors) Kelli Harshbarger and George Sitler believed there were several counts that did not have sufficient evidence to take to trial and those counts were to be dismissed as an ethical obligation prior to trial. Thereafter, we were advised by defense counsel that Probert intended to plead ‘straight up’.”
During the hearing, Harshbarger told Vickers the 13 counts were being dropped because “one victim did not want to testify at trial ... and insufficient evidence.”
As Vickers read Probert the many charges against him and asked how he wanted to plea, Probert, speaking quietly, responded “guilty.”
Probert now faces 171 to 489 years in prison and as much as $50,000 in fines. Vickers explained the penalties to Probert, then asked, “Is this what you want to do?”
“Yes, your honor,” Probert responded.
Vickers asked Harshbarger what evidence the state would have presented at trial.
Harshbarger said the state would show that Probert was a “respected member of the community and church” and, as such, parents would allow their children to stay at his home. She said Probert would provide alcohol and pornography to the boys and “encourage masturbation.”
“Sexual exploitation also includes masturbation,” Harshbarger noted.
Timothy Probert case timeline
Timothy Probert case timeline
• December 12, 2013: Timothy Probert, a former youth volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church and mentor with the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect program, is arrested on 38 counts of child sexual abuse related charges.
• December 18, 2013: A Bluefield Daily Telegraph investigation reveals Probert was accused of similar crimes in 1999.
• February 4, 2014: Graphic testimony is recounted during Probert’s preliminary hearing by Sgt. M.D. Clemons, with the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit. Probable cause is found, and the case is bound over to the grand jury.
• March 2014: Probert is placed on house arrest after a man testifies at a hearing that he was propositioned by Probert when he went to his Bluefield home seeking to do yard work or other labor.
• February 10, 2015: Probert is indicted on 50 charges related to alleged sexual abuse of children. The new charges stem from another alleged victim coming forward, and additional charges added in other cases.
• February 18, 2015: Probert case assigned to a senior status judge after Mercer County Circuit Court judges Omar Aboulhosn, Derek Swope and William “Bill” Saddler recuse themselves from the case, citing a conflict of interest.
• December 2015: Pre-trial hearing on defense motion that Pastor Jonathan Rockness violated priest-penitent privilege.
• February 17, 2016: Order filed denying motion of priest-penitent privilege violation.
• April 18: Timothy Probert, 57, of Princeton, pleads guilty to 37 charges related to the sexual abuse of teen boys.
Harshbarger said there would also be testimony by victims of oral sex, anal sex and attempted anal sex by Probert.
“Is this what happened?” Vickers asked Probert.
“Some did occur, some did not occur,” Probert responded after a long pause.
Probert’s attorney, William Flanigan, then told the court that the defense was not objecting or contesting the charges.
Vickers allowed Probert to remain free on bond, and scheduled a hearing on Friday.
Following the adjournment, several victims and their family members at the hearing were visibly upset. One victim asked Sitler why Probert was being allowed to “walk free” after he had pleaded guilty, and questioned whether other children were in danger.
Following the hearing, Westminster Presbyterian Pastor Jonathan Rockness said the church was “thankful” for Probert’s decision to plead guilty. “It was the right thing to do, and it spared the survivors from having to relive painful events in a public setting.
“At the same time, it would have been better for this acknowledgment of guilt to have taken place long ago,” Rockness said. “For almost two and a half years, Westminster Church has been living with dark storm clouds overhead. Further, and more importantly, the survivors who have courageously stepped forward as witnesses have lived the last two-plus years in great anguish, turmoil and anxiety, as they have contemplated how a public trial would bring great upheaval to their lives.
“Their actions — their very difficult and brave actions — finally forced this legal matter to a resolution,” Rockness added. “Without their determined efforts, no guilty plea would have been entered today. They have made this world a better place, and potentially thwarted further abuse.”
Rockness thanked the victims and Mercer County’s public servants who, he said, “have helped bring justice to a heartbreaking situation.”
Probert was arrested in December 2013 on 38 counts of child sexual abuse related charges. However, the number of charges grew to 50 when he was indicted in February of 2015.
The 12 new charges 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.
Probert’s original charges included 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 the abuse occurred between 1986 and 2010, and all the victims were male teens.
During a preliminary hearing in February 2014 on the charges, Clemons gave 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.
In a Daily Telegraph story last month, the mother of one of the victims said she was losing faith in the justice system after the case had dragged on in the courts for more than two years.
“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,” the mother, who was interviewed on the condition of anonymity, said. “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.”