Hearing Pushed For Tulsa Megachurch Abuse Suspect
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Prosecutors told a judge Tuesday that more witnesses or victims could come forward as police examine more deeply allegations of sex crimes at a 17,000-member megachurch deep in the Bible Belt.
Israel Castillo, 23, a former janitor at the Victory Christian Center, attended court for a preliminary hearing Tuesday after being accused of making a lewd proposal to a 15-year-old girl, but Tulsa County Special Judge Clifford Smith postponed proceedings until Nov. 29 after lawyers for the state said new information was forthcoming from at least one person. Castillo’s lawyer and the church said they knew nothing of it.
“I was prepared this morning to announce to the court that my client and I were ready to proceed with the preliminary hearing,” lawyer Hugh Hood wrote in an email. “Mr. Castillo has entered a plea of not guilty. I will continue to demand that his due process rights are protected throughout these proceedings.”
Castillo, who also is charged with using a computer in an alleged sex crime, is free on bond pending the hearing.
Citing the ongoing investigation, Assistant District Attorney Kali Strain wouldn’t say who may step forward — another alleged victim or a witness. Tulsa Police Detective Cpl. Greg Smith, who works in the child crisis unit, said investigators are speaking with “a couple people,” but that it was too soon to label them.
“At this point, I would consider them witnesses,” Smith said in a brief interview with The Associated Press. “The district attorney wanted to give us more time” to determine how they relate to the case.
Jarrod Kopp, a spokesman for the worldwide ministry in south Tulsa, said in a statement that the church wasn’t aware of any additional alleged victims.
“The police have not notified Victory Christian Center about an alleged fifth victim, nor have any additional victims come forward to the church,” Kopp said. “Victory has encouraged our congregation to report any allegations of abuse, and we continue to do so. Victory has also fully cooperated with the police and their investigation, and hope that justice will be served.”
Another ex-Victory employee, Chris Denman, 20, is charged with raping a 13-year-old on the ministry’s campus in August and other sex crimes and is due in court Monday. He has pleaded not guilty and remains in the Tulsa jail.
Five church employees — including the son and daughter-in-law of ministry co-founder and head pastor Sharon Daugherty — are each charged with a misdemeanor count of failure to report child abuse in a timely manner, as prosecutors allege they waited two weeks to tell authorities about the alleged rape of the 13-year-old. They have all pleaded not guilty and are due in court next week.
The church recently said that the five employees, John Daugherty, Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold “Frank” Sullivan, would be returning to the ministry by the end of the month but would be assigned different responsibilities and a direct supervisor to oversee them.
Jason Robertson, an attorney for John and Charica Daugherty, has asked the court to dismiss the child abuse charges against his clients because he argues that child abuse, which Oklahoma law defines an act committed “by a person responsible for the child’s health safety or welfare,” can’t be shown to have occurred in this case.
In his court filing, Robertson says Denman was a church intern until Aug. 10 and was hired as a janitor on Aug. 16, three days after the alleged Aug. 13 sexual assault supposedly occurred. As such, he argues that Denman wasn’t a church employee when the alleged attack took place and was not responsible for the girl’s safety or welfare.
Denman was arrested Sept. 5 on a complaint alleging that he raped the 13-year-old girl and molested a 15-year-old girl. Prosecutors also charged him with making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime involving a 12-year-old girl.
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