Sex molestation cases against Jehovah's Witnesses narrowed
Saturday, February 5, 2005
By DAVID RYAN
Register Staff Writer
A stack of child molestation cases filed against the Jehovah's Witnesses is due to shrink.
Lawyers representing individuals suing Jehovah's Witness organizations said Friday they would move next week to dismiss eight Sonoma County plaintiffs they believe are more trouble than they're worth.
In the case of two of the plaintiffs, lawyers had been unsuccessful in their attempts to communicate with their clients.
When finalized, the action will drop the number of lawsuits against the Jehovah's Witnesses in Napa Superior Court from 11 to seven. Three of the cases affected were originally filed in Sonoma County, but were later consolidated in Napa with cases from Napa, Tehama, Placer, Yolo and Monterey counties.
The Sonoma County plaintiffs accused the church of taking no action to stop a former Sonoma County Jehovah's Witness official named Donald Glew from molesting children, even though they claim the church knew of Glew's conduct.
In a criminal proceeding, Glew was convicted of child molestation in 1989 and was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
In a hearing Friday, lawyers representing plaintiffs and the church agreed to divide the remaining cases into tracks. The parties agreed to try two Tehama County cases with similar claims to the Sonoma County cases before focusing on the remaining cases. No trial date has been set.
Two of the remaining cases involve three Napans who are suing Napa Jehovah's Witness Congregations and other Jehovah's Witness groups, claiming high-ranking elders and church policymakers were negligent in supervising one church leader.
Charissa Welch, 35, and two women identified in court papers as Nicole D., 32, and Tabitha H., 30, claim Edward Bedoya Villegas, who was an elder in the congregation, forced them to perform sex acts with him starting more than 20 years ago. Tabitha H. also charges she was raped by Villegas.
In 1994, Villegas was convicted of molesting several local children at a Napa Jehovah's Witness congregation during the 1970s and '80s. During much of that time Villegas and his wife operated a Jehovah's Witness day care center.
Villegas died in prison 10 years ago.
Jehovah's Witness officials have said the facts will show that neither the national organization of the Jehovah's Witness church -- the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society -- nor local elders are responsible for Villegas' actions.