Church Elder Pleads Guilty To Sex Abuse

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Church Elder Pleads Guilty To Sex Abuse

#1 Post by Mary » Tue Dec 05, 2006 11:46 am


By Pat Lewandowski
Montgomery Advertiser
Source of Article
December 5, 2006

The passage of time.

It dulls memories.

It heals wounds.

For Teresa Rivera Ward, it did neither.

More than 25 years after her abuser fondled and degraded her, Ward found justice to be little comfort.

Roberto Soto Colon, 64, pleaded guilty Monday to sexual abuse in the third-degree, admitting to touching his niece inappropriately and causing her emotional pain. The plea deal was struck as a pool of 33 jurors was asked whether they could judge the case on the testimony and facts presented more than 25 years after the incident occurred.

Many could not.

Jennifer Jordan, a prosecutor for the 19th Judicial Circuit, saw it on the jurors' faces. They hesitated when asked if the passage of time would cloud their judgment.

Above all, Jordan wanted Colon to endure prison time. The plea agreement almost assures that will happen.

"He's now a registered sex offender for life," Jordan said. "The family wanted to end the cycle of abuse that's gone on for more than 30 years. He will spend time behind bars, even if it's only 365 days."

A one-year jail sentence is likely. Colon pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in lieu of a jury trial, where he could have received more than eight years in state prison if found guilty.

Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds accepted the plea and asked Colon to describe what he did to his niece. Colon became reticent and barely spoke above a whisper as he described events more than 25 years old. After all parties agreed to the terms, Sibley dismissed the jurors.

Reynolds set sentencing for Feb. 20, during which time, the district attorney will conduct a pre-sentencing investigation of Colon.

Ward left the crowded courtroom in the arms of her aunt and mother and broke down crying. Time had failed to ease the
memory of years of betrayal by a close relative.

"When I heard he was working with youth again at another church, I just had to come forward," Ward said. "My cousin is having a baby. The last thing I wanted was for the abuse to continue, I could not live with myself if that happened."

A law passed Jan. 7, 1985, eliminated the statute of limitations in child abuse sex cases. Randall Houston, district attorney for the 19th circuit, determined that the original three-year limit was grandfathered into the law, allowing Ward to file charges based on the last two years she had intimate contact with Colon.

It was not the first time she reported the abuse.

"I told the elders that my uncle was doing this to me and they handled it in the way that conformed to our beliefs," Ward said. "My uncle was an elder in the Jehovah Witnesses. They said I needed another witness to believe my story."

Hector Rivera, a former elder in the Prattville congregation who was at the informal inquiry 30 years ago, explained the concept after the hearing by quoting Deuteronomy 17:6: "On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one," Rivera said. "We believe that two witnesses are required to take action. We warned him about inappropriate contact. We never heard about it again."

Until last week.

As Ward, 38, prepared for the trial at her Dothan home, a cousin, Hector Rivera's daughter, came forward with similar allegations against Colon. The plea agreement spared her the pain of a trial.

Colon's defense attorney, Susan James, said the soon-to-be grandfather adamantly denies the incidents as they were described in graphic detail by Jordan during Colon's allocution. She also questioned the motive for making the charge 23 years after the alleged abuse stopped.

"If you are a parent and you learned about the abuse, would you not get your children out of harm's way?"

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."
George Bernard Shaw

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