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Alleged Victim Sobs as Case Goes to Jury

Priest: Deliberations on the sex abuse charges begin after prosecution says the Catholic cleric's accusers want people like him 'eliminated from the church.'

April 13, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ROSA — As jurors here prepared Friday to decide the fate of Father Donald Kimball, a Roman Catholic priest charged with rape and molestation, his chief accusers and their families seemed overcome by the moment.

One woman, who alleged that Kimball raped her in 1977 beside a church altar when she was 14 and then arranged for an abortion, shuddered with sobs in the courtroom as the panel heard the last arguments, then left to begin deliberations.

Afterward, the woman, now 38 and the mother of nine children, fought back tears as she excused herself from an interview with a cluster of TV news crews.

"I've got a lot of emotions right now," she murmured before wandering down a courthouse corridor.

Her mother was left on a bench, surrounded by reporters. She marveled at all they had been through, and expressed hope that some good would come of the trial, if not for the victims, then for the Catholic Church, caught in a nationwide scandal over long-silenced sexual misconduct by priests.

"The church is changing," said the mother, who still attends Kimball's former parish. "Eyes are opening in the hierarchy. One day, families will trust the church again."

But for now, she draws a distinction between faith in God and hope that the institution will reform itself. The church, she said, remains "a business," but religious creed "is something inside you."

Kimball was a popular youth minister in the 1970s, dubbed the "rock 'n' roll priest" because he used Top 40 music to help deliver a message about Catholicism. For a time, he even had a radio program broadcast around the country.

His accusers--eight women testified that he abused them, although the charges focus on only two--say the clergyman used counseling sessions as an excuse to turn hugs into back rubs and then into molestation.

Though he resigned from the priesthood more than a decade ago, Kimball remains active in a program that caters to young people.

And that doesn't sit well with his accusers or their families.

One mother, whose now-grown daughter has charged that Kimball molested her in 1981, said the priest had destroyed the abiding faith of trusting children.

"They were so innocent," she said. "They went to him for good things. Instead they got bad."

She wants prison time for the priest, who could be behind bars for eight years if convicted. But she professes no anger at him.

"I have sadness, very, very deep sadness," she said. "I hope someday I'll be able to go to the church and not cry."

Gail Machado, an accuser's aunt, said she had struggled with Kimball's "total and complete betrayal."

"I look at him now and I can't even envision him in a cleric's collar," she said. "In my heart, I know he must know what he's done.... It's an illness, but at some point in any illness you realize you're sick and do something about it."

Kimball, 58, sat impassively through the closing arguments, avoiding eye contact with his accusers.

"I think he's stressed," said Chris Andrian, Kimball's attorney, after the jury began deliberations.

During the trial, Andrian attempted to poke holes in the testimony of Kimball's accusers, saying that they embellished stories in hopes of making money off the church. In 2000, the Santa Rosa diocese settled a civil lawsuit with the women for $1.6 million.

Kimball has denied the charges, but has admitted having sex with a few of the women when they became adults. He did not testify.

"I'm not here to apologize for him," Andrian said after the case went to deliberations. "My job is to present evidence that casts some doubt."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Gary Medvigy said there was no doubt.

"Until this defendant is held responsible for these actions, he remains a danger to society," Medvigy said in his closing arguments Friday morning.

Medvigy said that Kimball's accusers were intent not on money, but on "trying to make a difference" by taking a stand against disreputable priests. "They want the Don Kimballs eliminated from the church."

During the trial, Medvigy tried to show a pattern of abuse by recounting the testimony of six other women who alleged that the priest inappropriately touched them during private counseling sessions that often took place in his bedroom. Though no charges were brought in those alleged incidents, Medvigy said they helped corroborate stories about Kimball's behavior.

In the end, he said the best evidence was Kimball's admission to church officials when confronted with allegations of sexual molestations. The prosecutor ruefully noted that Kimball even seemed to play down the cases, telling church officials that "at least I didn't touch boys."

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