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Priest's Rape Case Expected to Go to Deliberations Today

Crime: The cleric, charged with sexually abusing a teenage girl in 1977, could face eight years in prison.

April 12, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ROSA — A Roman Catholic priest on trial for allegedly raping one teenage girl and molesting another more than two decades ago used "his priestly collar" and youth counseling position to criminally abuse his victims, a prosecutor charged Thursday.

But in closing arguments, a defense lawyer for Father Donald Kimball, 58, countered that the women "embellished and exaggerated" their claims in an effort that two years ago yielded a $1.6-million civil settlement with the local diocese.

Meanwhile, one of Kimball's accusers said outside court that she mostly wants an apology from the former youth pastor and will accept whatever verdict is delivered by the jury, which is expected to begin deliberations today.

"All my life I've lived with this," said the 38-year-old woman, who alleges she was raped behind the altar of a Santa Rosa church in 1977 at age 14 by Kimball, who then arranged an abortion for her. "It doesn't matter what the verdict is. I'm letting go."

The case is among the first in the nation to go to trial since widespread revelations began surfacing earlier this year of sexual misconduct by Catholic priests throughout the U.S. In many cases, the molestations took place decades ago. In the Santa Rosa diocese alone, six priests have been accused of sexual misconduct over the last decade, including Kimball.

If convicted of the rape and two separate charges of molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1981 during his tenure as a priest, Kimball could face more than eight years in prison.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Medvigy argued Thursday that Kimball used his priestly collar, status as a counselor and reputation as the "rock 'n' roll pastor" who understood youth to attract a flock of admirers he then exploited.

The prosecutor said Kimball had displayed a pattern of abuse. In all, eight women stepped forward during the trial to testify that Kimball had sexually molested them during private counseling sessions that often took place in his bedroom. Charges were brought in only two of the cases.

"He took advantage of these kids so he could satisfy his own prurient interests," Medvigy concluded, adding that Kimball's victims "had this tortured story locked inside all these years."

After abusing for a decade, Medvigy said, Kimball resigned in 1981 after a pattern of lies unraveled and he finally admitted the indiscretions to a bishop.

Young parishioners trusted Kimball, who ran a popular radio program called "God Talk" and mixed rock music with religion in his youth programs. But he took advantage when they came for counseling, Medvigy said.

Hugs would lead to massages and finally molestation, the prosecutor said. The girls largely kept it to themselves, confused and ashamed.

To the teens, "Don Kimball was on a higher plane," Medvigy said. "He was nearer to God.... He was someone who in their eyes could do no wrong."

Defense attorney Chris Andrian tried to shoot holes in the testimony delivered by Kimball's chief accusers and called into question their motives.

In some cases, Kimball's alleged victims seemed to recall with startling clarity the tiniest details, but in several instances claimed to have forgotten key sequences in an effort to "shade it a little worse than it is," Andrian said in conducting a point-by-point dissection of testimony offered in the trial, which began in mid-February.

Andrian focused on the woman who has accused Kimball of rape. He painted the picture of a victim on a mission to glean a big settlement from the diocese, and said the woman amended her stories if caught with conflicting events.

"How do we know today where the truth began and where it ended?" Andrian said to the jury. He said the woman gave a "litany of excuses" for lost memories, but suggested that she had been "willing to make it up as she goes along."

He also questioned the likelihood that Kimball would choose the church altar as a spot to forcibly rape a young parishioner. Earlier, Medvigy had said the church doors were locked at the time.

Andrian said the other accuser "had issues with the church" from an early age as well as a perception that a variety of men were being sexually inappropriate in their behavior to her as a young teen, raising a possibility that she could have misconstrued Kimball's actions.

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