Patriarch accused of sex crimes in Missouri released
Saturday, February 18, 2012
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — After more than two years in jail, the patriarch of a western Missouri family at the center of a sex crimes case was released from jail Friday pending his trial on charges that accuse him and his sons of molesting young relatives in the 1980s.
A judge unexpectedly released Burrell Mohler Sr. on his own recognizance, meaning the ailing 79-year-old would have to promise to show up for future court hearings but wouldn't have to pay his $100,000 bond. Mohler had been in jail since November 2009.
Mohler, whose hearing aid battery died before the court proceeding began, initially didn't understand what Clay County Judge Larry Harman was saying, his attorney said.
"I wrote a note saying 'you're going home,'" defense attorney Kim Benjamin said after the hearing. "My heart goes out to anybody sitting in jail 2 ½ years waiting for justice."
Mohler and his four sons — Burrell Jr., Roland, Jared and David — are accused of sexually abusing at least four young relatives spanning several years. Burrell Mohler Jr. is the only defendant still incarcerated.
The alleged victims said they were abused as children at the family's farm south of Bates City, about 30 miles east of Kansas City, but had repressed the memories for decades.
Among the more bizarre claims is that Burrell Mohler Sr., an ordained minister, conducted wedding ceremonies in which the young girls were "married" to their older relatives so they could have sex. There also are claims that some of the girls were forced into sex acts with animals.
Trials for all five men have been repeatedly pushed back because of delays in gathering evidence in the case.
Lafayette County prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell initially had problems getting thousands of pages of documents and other evidence from neighboring Jackson County, which investigated before Lafayette County got involved. Later, the alleged victims were reluctant to turn over personal health records fearing private information would become public.
Another judge was appointed last year to review the medical records and decide which ones would be made available to attorneys. Since mid-December, the accusers have turned over thousands of pages of medical and mental health records, many of which were given to defense attorneys Friday.
Still, Benjamin said the discovery process had taken far too long, to the detriment of her elderly client.
"It's inexcusable that my client has been unjustly rotting in jail for 2 ½ years," she said, adding that she was surprised when the judge agreed to release him. "At the age of 79, he has diabetes, heart and colon issues and at least one hospitalization for an infection that went untreated for too long in jail."
Campbell declined comment after the hearing.
Benjamin had asked Harman to bar the alleged victims from testifying at trial because they had not complied with orders to provide medical records dating back to when they were small children. Harman denied the motion.
The alleged victims provided a joint statement to The Associated Press earlier this week saying they were providing the medical records and were eager for the case to go to trial.
His hands shackled at the waist, his back hunched and his feet shuffling across the floor, a frail-looking Burrell Mohler Sr. smiled broadly as he was led out of the courtroom. In the audience, family members and friends wiped away tears and hugged each other when they realized he would be going home.
Harman was scheduled Friday to hear several motions filed by David Mohler's attorney, including a request to dismiss two forcible rape counts, but the judge said he would likely announce his decision Tuesday.
Some of the siblings told authorities people were murdered on the farm, but no bodies have been found and no charges were filed regarding those claims.
A sixth man, Darrel Mohler, who was Burrell Mohler Sr.'s brother, also was charged but died in September at his home in Florida while free on bond.