Priest Convicted of Molesting Girl
He's Guilty in 1981 Abuse Case but Acquitted of 1977 Rape Charge

By Pamela J. Podger
San Francisco Chronicle
April 17, 2002

Donald Wren Kimball, the glib Santa Rosa priest who charmed a generation of young Catholic parishioners, was convicted yesterday of molesting a 13-year-old girl two decades ago.

After an emotionally wrenching two-month trial, the jury of nine men and three women acquitted Kimball, 58, on charges that he raped a 14-year-old girl in 1977 but found him guilty on two counts of lewd conduct with the 13-year-old at a Healdsburg rectory in 1981.

The decision came after three days of deliberations.

Kimball, wearing tan slacks, a blue shirt and blue sport coat with an American flag lapel pin, clenched his jaw and looked straight ahead as the verdict was read.

The case galvanized the families and friends of many other alleged victims. Only a few of of them were allowed to testify, but they nevertheless packed the courtroom yesterday.

"Yes, cuff him!" one woman whispered, raising her fist, after Judge Gayle Guynup ordered Kimball, who was free on bail, remanded into custody.

Others broke into tears, held hands and patted each other on the back. Mary Agbayani, who had accused Kimball of raping her in her youth, hugged friends and supporters, saying over and over, "It's done, it's done."


"This is for victims of clergy everywhere, but this, for me, especially is for all the other survivors of Don," said Ellen Brem, the now-34-year-old victim of the lewd acts.

"I don't know if anybody who has ever been abused can actually move on from it," she said, her voice breaking. "It's always there. I hope it wakes the Catholic Church up."

The Chronicle usually does not publish the names of sexual abuse victims, but both women gave their names out yesterday during interviews with reporters.

Kimball's trial comes at a time of crisis for the Roman Catholic Church. In January, a Boston priest was convicted of molesting a child and is accused of abusing more than 100 others as he was shuttled from one parish to another by his superiors. Defrocked San Francisco priest Patrick O'Shea was accused of more than 200 instances of sexual abuse, but the charges were dropped last month after a judge ruled that prosecutors had taken too long to file charges.

The embattled Santa Rosa Diocese has faced a series of revelations involving pedophile priests and alleged church coverups. Five priests have been identified and disciplined by the diocese after charges of sexual misconduct emerged.

Daniel J. Galvin III, an attorney for the Santa Rosa Diocese -- which extends from Petaluma to the Oregon border and has about 140,000 parishioners -- said about $7.4 million had been spent in the past 20 years to resolve sexual misconduct lawsuits. That includes the $1.6 million paid to settle a civil lawsuit against Kimball lodged by four plaintiffs, including Ellen Brem, who accused him of sexual misconduct. Kimball did not participate in the settlement.

During Kimball's criminal trial, the former bishop of the diocese admitted in court that he had known about allegations against Kimball for three years before he took any action against him.

The mounting evidence of abuse has caused soul-searching among American Catholics, and even the Vatican -- which has long seemed to minimize the issue -- has taken notice. On Monday, Pope John Paul II summoned all the American cardinals to Rome next week to discuss the issue.


The Kimball case was a challenge for prosecutors who had to track down witnesses to old crimes and contend with sometimes hazy recall.

"These children had their childhood stolen from them, and when they finally got their voices in adulthood, we gave them their day in court," said prosecutor Gary Medvigy. "It is important. These crimes are devastating to the victims. (It shows) there is hope out there after being molested as a child."

Defense lawyer Chris Andrian said yesterday that he would appeal the decision on grounds that the 1994 law extending the statute of limitations on child molestation cases had incorrectly been applied. He has repeatedly claimed that the law itself is unconstitutional.

The jury had come back early yesterday with what members thought was a verdict -- but they had left one of the lewd conduct counts blank on the verdict form. The judge sent them back for nearly five more hours of deliberations.

"This is the first time (the law) has come into play in California, and the jury had trouble with it," Andrian said.

Among the evidence the jurors sifted through was the testimony from the two alleged victims and six corroborating victims. The women described how the hip and unorthodox priest had befriended them in counseling sessions, at his popular radio ministry show or at church youth groups -- and then betrayed their trust by taking advantage of them sexually. At one point, Kimball had a national following for his radio show that blended rock 'n' roll hits with the messages from Bible.

Andrian repeatedly attacked the credibility of the alleged victims, pointing to lapses of memory and inconsistent statements.

But he apparently could not overcome Kimball's damaging admission to the Santa Rosa bishop in 1990 that he had fondled six girls.

Andrian said Kimball, who faces a maximum of 14 years in prison when he is sentenced May 15, was stoic after the verdict. "He said, 'Stay with me,' and I said I will," Andrian said.

In a related matter, Kimball will be arraigned on April 23 for felony assault, felony vandalism and misdemeanor battery for attacking a Chronicle photographer during the trial.

Kimball, who has not been defrocked but no longer performs priestly duties, was convicted of forcing Brem to touch his private parts and of fondling her on at least two occasions when she was 13 at St. John's Church in Healdsburg.


He was found not guilty of the charge involving a rape behind the altar of Resurrection Church in Santa Rosa. Agbayani, a highly devout girl, said she had submitted to sex with Kimball another eight to 10 times, testifying that she felt like it was her "mission." She testified that the priest later had arranged and paid for her abortion at a San Francisco clinic.

Medvigy said the rape case was difficult from the start because it required proof of physical resistance, as the law required when the attack allegedly occurred 25 years ago.

"I'm not disappointed," Agbayani said. "So many doors have been opened for so many people. I feel like justice has been served. He will be off the streets, and he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life."


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