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Former Church Elder Convicted of Lewdness with Minor

YERINGTON, Nev. (AP) - A former Jehovah's Witnesses church elder was convicted of lewdness with a minor for a 1992 incident with an 8-year-old girl at his home.

A Lyon District Court jury returned the verdict Thursday against Daniel Steven Fitzwater, who faces up to 20 years in prison when he returns to court for sentencing April 20.

During the trial, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Schlegelmilch said Fitzwater used his position as a church elder to gain the trust of the victim's family before the incident.

The girl, now 13, was left in the care of Fitzwater's wife when her parents went on a deer hunting trip, and the sexual molestation occurred when Mrs. Fitzwater made a trip to town, the prosecutor said.

"He was supposed to be looking over the flock," but he committed a "crime against nature and Jehovah," Schlegelmilch said.

The girl went on to develop behavioral problems, experience nightmares and attempt suicide at the age of 10, he added.

But court-appointed defense attorney Jeffrey Morrison questioned the girl's credibility, saying she has accused others of the same crime.

"It will be your task to determine what is fact and what is fantasy in the mind of a troubled young girl," he told jurors.

Fitzwater took the stand during the trial to deny the charges, but two women supported the prosecution's case by testifying he inappropriately touched them when they were young.

One was his stepdaughter.

Fitzwater lived in Weed Heights, a mining community near Yerington, when the crime occurred. He has since moved out of Lyon County.

Yerington is 80 miles southwest of Reno.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/archives/1998/mar/16/506962607.html

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