Jury to Hear Case against Mormon Church, Officials
By Kelsie LeRose
December 28, 2017
|MARTINSBURG–A Berkeley County jury will hear the accusations and evidence against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church, and local church officials in early January for allegedly covering up allegations that the son of local church officials sexually abused 12 children over the course of more than five years.|
The case against the church was initially investigated after Christopher Michael Jensen, of Martinsburg, was found guilty and sentenced on July 29, 2013 to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing two minors–4 and 3 years of age at the time of the abuse.
According to the office of 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, the pre-trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 8 and the trial is set to begin on Jan. 9.
Filed in 2013, the lawsuit against the church accuses the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and church leaders of actively covering up the abuse and assisting Jensen in committing further acts by enabling him to babysit for and live with other church families with young children.
In 2007, before the alleged abuse of the children suing the church began, Martinsburg’s Stake High Council–whose members include Jensen’s parents–held a meeting, during which the alleged sexual abuse of two children by Jensen was allegedly discussed, the suit said.
The children suing the church were between the ages of 3 and 12 when they say they were sexually abused by Jensen.
The suit also alleges that the church, through its leaders, has tried to intimidate the families of the children suing the church and has allegedly directed fellow church members to try to convince them to abandon their claims “lest they run afoul of church teachings regarding forgiveness,” a copy of the suit reads.
Jensen was initially accused of sexually abusing young children in 2004 when he was 13-years-old. Living in Provo, Utah at the time, Jensen was arrested at his middle school and charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse for pinning two 12 and 13 year old females against a wall and fondling them inappropriately and without consent.
Court documents said Jensen’s Sexual Behavior Risk Assessment indicated that he was highly likely to reoffend, but his charges were reduced to two misdemeanor counts of lewdness involving children.
Counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said 23rd Circuit Court Judge John Yoder ruled to exclude evidence from the case and dismiss the claim of conspiracy before the lawsuit went to trail. The ruling was heard by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and Yoder’s ruling was reversed and remanded.
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals 2015 ruling to overturn Yoder’s ruling made it possible for the case against the church to proceed to January’s trial.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.
“Punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages are not only warranted in these circumstances, but also are necessary to send a message to this institution and its agents that abusing young children is not acceptable, that compliance with secular laws requiring that sex abuse be reported to the authorities is mandatory and that the church’s self-interest cannot be elevated over the needs of young children,” the suit reads.
On Aug. 18, 2013, the Martinsburg Stake High Council excommunicated Jensen from the church.