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  7-Year Term for Priest's Child Abuse
Judge Says Kimball's 'Despicable' Behavior Warrants No Leniency

By Peter Fimrite
San Francisco Chronicle
June 8, 2002

Disgraced priest Donald Wren Kimball was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday after a stream of former parishioners tearfully described how his sexual abuse more than two decades ago nearly destroyed their lives.

Calling the glib Santa Rosa priest an unremorseful pedophile whose "despicable" behavior does not warrant leniency, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gayle Guynup sentenced him to the maximum term of seven years for each of two counts of lewd conduct with a minor.

Nevertheless, the sentence was seven years shorter than what prosecutors requested, as Guynup said that by law she had to order the terms served concurrently.

Kimball, who was shackled to a wheelchair for security reasons, sat stone-faced and impassive during the sentencing. With credit for good behavior, the 58-year-old sex offender could end up serving only 3 1/2 years in prison.

"I disagree with the legal analysis," said prosecutor Gary Medvigy, who argued that the sentences should be served consecutively. "We're glad that justice was done and the victims were vindicated, and I think the local diocese got the message that this is a crime, but we are disappointed he didn't get more years."

Kimball's lawyer, Chris Andrian, immediately filed an appeal on grounds that the 1994 law extending the statute of limitations on child molestation cases was improperly applied.

He said, however, that he was satisfied with the sentence, under the circumstances.

"The judge followed the law appropriately," he said. "It has been 21 years since anyone has made any sort of allegation against Don Kimball. That suggests that when he is released, he can function in society."

Kimball was found guilty April 16 of two counts of lewd conduct for fondling Ellen Brem at St. John's Church in Healdsburg in 1981, when she was 13. He was acquitted on charges that he raped a 14-year-old girl in 1977 behind the altar of Resurrection Church in Santa Rosa. (The Chronicle does not publish the names of sexual crime victims unless they indicate they wish to be identified.)

The sentencing Friday attracted 11 others who claim to have been sexually assaulted by Kimball or whose relatives were abused.

Chris Ovard, 37, scoffed at Kimball's denial that he ever fondled boys, describing how he was the victim of sadistic fondling and rape when he was a boy.

"I'm here to tell you the defendant abused both boys and girls," said Ovard, one of the plaintiffs in a civil suit against the Santa Rosa Diocese that resulted in a $1.6 million award to four of Kimball's victims.

A weeping Ellen Brem turned to Kimball at one point almost pleading with him to understand her pain.

"I wish," she said, her voice breaking as tears streamed down her cheeks, "you could understand how many people you have harmed."

In equally wrenching testimony, six people stood up to defend Kimball.

"I've suffered some sad days, but this is the saddest," said a choked-up Terry McLaughlin, who described how Kimball was there for him when his mother and father died and how the trial has ruined his friend financially and emotionally. "I'm watching a man I care deeply about suffering, and facing a jail sentence."

Judge Guynup told Kimball she was sentencing him to the maximum penalty because he had numerous chances over the years to seek counseling and make amends to his victims, "and you squandered those opportunities."

The trial was one of several cases involving priestly pedophilia across the country, creating a national fury and subjecting the Roman Catholic Church to worldwide recrimination.

Revelations that church officials in the Bay Area kept molestations secret has led to demands for documents from law enforcement officials across the nation.

In urging the judge to sentence Kimball to 14 years, Medvigy said the Santa Rosa Diocese was "complicit in a crime against humanity.".

 
 

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