LEXINGTON, Mo. (AP) - Eighteen months after shocking claims of incest and rape at a western Missouri farm were made public, three of six men accused of molesting young relatives remain behind bars and the first trial is at least five months away.
Incarceration is taking its toll on the eldest defendant, family patriarch Burrell Mohler Sr., according to motions filed by his attorney in Clay County Circuit Court. The 78-year-old is scheduled to stand trial in October on 21 felony counts, including rape, sodomy and use of a child in a sexual performance.
The charges stem from incidents alleged to have spanned more than a decade, beginning in the early 1980s, at a farm near Bates City about 30 miles east of Kansas City.
"He's now 78 years old and was diabetic prior to incarceration," said his attorney, Kimberly Benjamin, who has asked the court to allow her client to see heart and colon specialists next month. "Prior to that he had a heart attack and other issues. It's of great concern."
Two of his sons, Burrell Mohler Jr., 55, and Roland Mohler, 48, also are still in jail after being arrested in November 2009. Two other sons, Jared, 50, and David Mohler, 53, have posted bond and were released pending trial, as has Burrell Sr.'s brother, Darrel Mohler, who turns 74 on Sunday.
Indictments and other court documents graphically describe bizarre claims against the six men, all of whom have pleaded not guilty.
Among the accusations are that Burrell Mohler Sr., an ordained minister, performed marriage ceremonies between his sons and the young relatives prior to some of the sex acts. Documents also include accusations that at least two girls were impregnated, including one who was forced to have an abortion when she was 11, and that two girls were forced to perform sex acts with animals while some of the defendants watched.
Court dates for all of the Mohlers have been repeatedly set and then changed as prosecutors in Lafayette County waited for the Jackson County Sheriff's Office to turn over thousands of pages of evidence and other materials retrieved from the Independence homes of Burrell Mohler junior and senior.
Burrell Mohler Jr.'s trial, which had been scheduled to begin next week, was the latest to be postponed. His trial date and the county where he will be tried have not been decided after his attorney requested a change of judge and venue out of Lafayette County.
"The length of time has been due to discovery issues," said Burrell Jr.'s attorney, Janeal Matheson, who declined to discuss specifics of the case.
Burrell Mohler Sr. is scheduled to go to trial first, starting Oct. 11. David Mohler, of Lamoni, Iowa, is scheduled for Nov. 7, followed by Darrel Mohler, of Silver Springs, Fla., on Dec. 5. The trial for Roland Mohler, of Bates City, is set for Jan. 9, and the one for Jared Mohler, of Columbia, is Jan. 25.
The first four trials are scheduled for Clay County, in the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, on changes of venue. Jared Mohler's trial is the only one still scheduled in Lafayette County.
Experts say the outcome of Burrell Mohler Sr.'s trial, if it is prosecuted first, likely would have a big impact on the other cases.
"If the person facing the most charges, who the state has the strongest case against, goes first and if he's convicted, that could cause the other defendants to be more interested in plea bargaining," said Rodney Uphoff, a University of Missouri professor who helped defend Terry Nichols in state court in Oklahoma after the Oklahoma City bombing. "Alternatively, if I'm a defense lawyer for one of the others, going second, third or fourth may be very desirable, from my standpoint."
Lafayette County prosecutor Kellie Wingate Ritchie, who last month received more than 4,400 pages of documents and 17 CDs containing photos, documents and audio recordings from Jackson County, said it's not uncommon for complex cases to take a while to work their way through the legal system.
"In any criminal case where you have multiple defendants, several investigative agencies, thousands of documents and hours of recordings to review, you can expect an extended period of trial preparation, an essential component of the judicial process," she said. "Patience, as usual, is a virtue."