Johnston Trial Set to Begin Soon

By John Ford
Neosho Daily News [Missouri]
February 10, 2007

Several days have been set aside toward the end of the month for the trial of a Granby pastor accused of 17 charges of felony child sexual abuse.

On Friday, Newton County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Dobbs traveled to Harrisonville, Mo., in Cass County to check into the availability of a courtroom for jury selection in the case against George Otis Johnston.

Johnston, 63, is the pastor of Grandview Valley Independent Baptist Church in Granby. He's accused of a variety of child sexual abuse charges involving two victims, now ages 20 and 17.

A jury will be selected from Cass County residents, then transported to Neosho for the four-day trial. While in town, they will be sequestered and ordered not to have contact with local media, nor watch television, read newspapers or listen to radio reports regarding the trial.

Jury selection is set for Feb. 23, with trial to begin on Feb. 26. Four days have been set aside for the actual trial, during which Fortieth Circuit Court Judge Timothy Perigo will preside.

The proceedings have garnered national and world-wide media coverage, with reporters from the Associated Press and National Public Radio among those picking up the story.

The scandal came to light when a young woman alleged Johnston had molested her as a child, beginning when she was 8 years old and continuing until she left the Granby commune shortly after her 17th birthday.

The 20-year-old testified Johnston fondled her while she was a child, with some of the alleged contact taking place while he was supposed to be tutoring the girl in algebra. She added she considered the pastor to be her grandfather because, although the two are not related, he was the spiritual leader of their community.

Johnston also faces a felony charge of child molestation in McDonald County and will appear for a pre-trial conference on Feb. 20.

Four other area church leaders face child sexual abuse charges: Johnston's nephew, Raymond Lambert, 51; Lambert's wife, Patty Lambert, 49; Laura Epling, age unavailable, the wife of church deacon Tom Epling; and church deacon Paul Epling.


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