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Domestic CP - October 2002
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia, 9 October 2002
Child takes stand for prosecution
By Jill Young Miller
David Duncan Jr., one of the boys allegedly beaten at the House of Prayer, has just taken the stand on behalf of the prosecution at the criminal trial of five adult members of the church, including the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr.
Duncan faced his parents on the witness stand late this afternoon in the House of Prayer trial.
Acting as their own attorneys, Sharon and David Duncan Sr. questioned their son.
"Do you think we're abusive parents?" Sharon asked tearfully.
"No ma'am," David Jr. replied.
"Why do you feel that way?" the mother asked.
"I feel you whip us because you love us," the boy said in an almost inaudible voice.
David Jr., now 12, was 10 when he was allegedly beaten by House of Prayer members.
Officer: Boys said they were whipped for misbehaving
An Atlanta police officer testified today that two young boys from the House of Prayer told her that they had been whipped because they misbehaved in school.
Investigator C.R. Dean said Ricky Wilson Jr., then 7, and David Duncan Jr., then 10, identified several men who held their arms and legs, lifted them and held them face down over the floor. They said the pastor, Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., 70, directed the punishment.
"David said, 'They hit me so hard that I couldn't cry -- it hurt so bad," Dean said. "He said 'It shows me that they love me when they whip me.'"
The whippings occurred in the back of the church on Hollywood Road. It was unclear whether there were spectators or whether only four or five men administering the punishment were present.
David, whose parents Sharon and David Duncan Sr. are among the five people on trial for cruelty to children, said that he knew he was going to get a whipping when they took him to the church, which operates like an extended family for its members.
"He said the pastor said, why do we keep acting up in school when we know we're going to get a whipping," Dean said. "David said, 'I don't know.' David said the reverend said, 'Come on back.'"
Photographs showed the boys with bruises on their back and chests and David with some abrasions.
Ricky, who said he received two whippings the same week for misbehaving in school, said he got the welts on his chest because he would twist when the men were holding him and the belt or rod would strike his chest.
"The pastor was telling them when to stop and asking him if he was going to be good in school," Dean said. "Ricky said he told his parents and they turned away and walked off."
His parents, Ricky and Yolanda Wilson, are indicted but not among the five church members now on trial.
Dr. Kevin Colton testified that he examined the boys and found multiple bruises that could take months to heal. The blows landed in the area of vital organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys, but the child received no internal injuries.
"I would imagine they were painful," he said.
Child discipline at root of church trial
The five members of the House of Prayer say they're loving parents who monitor their children's school work and whip them if they're disrespectful or do bad things. Prosecutors, who want to see them convicted of cruelty, paint them as zealots who beat their children in an almost ritualistic way.
The defendants, including the Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., and the parents of one of two boys they are accused of beating, contend they gave tough love. The state says they cruelly punished two boys by whipping them excessively.
Jurors will have to define "excessive." Georgia law doesn't.
The church members are on trial in Fulton County Superior Court in a case that has to separate child abuse from loving but appropriate discipline. It's a drama that could play differently at different times, as standards change about how parents can punish their kids.
When police and social workers raided the church member's homes and seized 49 children, some metro Atlantans viewed Allen and his followers as monsters. Others saw them as people trying to do the right thing.
It all began when Kristi Thompkins, a first-grade teacher of one of the allegedly abused boys, said she was "appalled" when she saw the bruises on Ricky Wilson, then 7, at C. W. Hill Elementary school in February 2001.
"He pulled up his shirt and said, 'Look at what they did to me in church,' " Tompkins said. "He said that he had been beaten by a big stick."
Prosecutors contend the children were punished by being lifted into the air by four adults, each grasping an arm or a leg, so that another church member could whip them at Allen's direction.
Phyllis Clerk, one of the prosecutors, outlined the case to jurors as no "simple spanking," and said the church was Allen's province with no elders or oversight. She said sometimes kids are tardy to school or fall asleep in class.
"They're in church morning, noon and night," she said. "They have marathon church service . . . into the wee hours of the morning."
'We are not monsters'
Allen, 70, is acting as his own lawyer as are his co-defendants, David and Sharon Duncan, 45 and 41, Charles Ogletree, 30, and Emanuel Hardeman, 37. They contend the Bible teaches to save a child by using a rod, if necessary, to raise them properly. The close-knit members pray and socialize together -- and have disciplined children -- in the plain, brick church on Hollywood Road, a hardscrabble neighborhood in northwest Atlanta.
Allen outlined the defense's case for the mostly female, mostly white jury whose members hail primarily from Buckhead and the Fulton suburbs. He told them his 130 parishioners -- in a church to which he's dedicated 35 years -- aren't on welfare.
"The men in our church do work, and this is one thing that I insist upon, that they work and take care of their families," said Allen, dressed in gray slacks and a gray cardigan. "We're not learned people, we're not highly educated people. We're plain, down-to-earth, common people who work hard and take care of our families.
"We are not monsters."
Thompkins, the trial's first witness, testified she learned that Ricky's 10-year-old cousin, David Duncan Jr., got a similar whipping. Later that day, the school social worker called David from class, said his 4th-grade teacher, Rosie Flynt.
"He was almost in a jovial mood," she said. "He said, 'I know what this is about,' and he had a smile on his face."
The teacher described David as an unruly child. "He was very rude and disrespectful," she said.
She had reported David's behavior to his parents, Sharon and David Duncan Sr., and said his father had met with her after work to discuss it. Under Allen's questioning, she acknowledged she favored corporal punishment, and it wasn't uncommon for a student to fear a teacher reporting bad behavior to a parent. She also had been whipped as a child.
Her childhood experience was akin to most of the jurors'. During pre-trial questioning, most jurors said they had been whipped or spanked although, highlighting the cultural shift of the times, only about a third said they spanked their kids.
The issue of corporal punishment presents a fine line for prosecutors because society is split on spanking. Punishing children has evolved from a point where a parent could use a strap to "tan your hide" to one where some say only "time outs" are appropriate.
Prosecutors tried to differentiate between a spank with a hand and one with a belt, which they contend church members used.
"How do you define spanking," lead prosecutor Patricia Jackson asked Flynt.
"I define it as using either the palm of your hand or a belt to discipline a child," Flynt said.
Laura Hudlow, a Department of Family and Children Services social worker, acknowledged the law didn't define excessive, which was a problem.
She described Sharon Duncan as "nonchalant" when she confronted her about the bruises on her son. "She said kids were always falling down," Hudlow said. "She didn't seem concerned at all."
The agency seized the Duncans' children because they refused to only discipline their children themselves -- rather than at a group whipping -- and in a way that didn't leave marks on them, Hudlow said. She said the Duncans denied punishing their children too harshly.
"Our definition of what is excessive or harmful is not the same," Hudlow said. Her agency later returned some of the Duncan's children but kept David and three others.
Doctor to testify
In questioning her, Allen sought to highlight the agency's reputedly dismal record at protecting children under its care and supervision, either in foster care and group homes.
Allen asked Hudlow how the marks on the children compared to other cases in her 15 years with an agency that has had cases of children murdered and tortured.
"Is this one of the worst cases you've seen?" Allen asked.
"Yes, it was pretty severe," Hudlow shot back. "I would say it would be in the top three."
Later, Allen asked Hudlow, "How far are parents allowed to go?"
Hudlow responded, "That's not specifically spelled out."
The state will continue its case today, and at least one doctor is expected to be called to testify about the extent of the injuries.
In all, the state called six witnesses Tuesday. Zunilda Tejeda, a state child abuse investigator, said the injuries to the boys were "very excessive."
Allen challenged her testimony, citing Tejeda's previous testimony in a Fulton County Juvenile Court hearing in which she described Ricky Wilson's wounds as "kind of reddish, very thin marks."
Said Tejeda, "I thought I said very deep, reddish marks."
© 2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 15 October 2002
House of Prayer jury to resume deliberations Tuesday
By Steve Visser and Jill Young Miller
Fulton County prosecutors finished the House of Prayer trial with a plea to the jury to stop the church from abusing children in the name of religion.
The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr., in turn, accused the government of trampling his congregation's rights to discipline their children in accordance with their beliefs.
On Monday, the Superior Court jury heard closing arguments and then deliberated about two hours. They will resume today.
Allen and four members of his church are accused of cruelty to children in the whippings of two boys at the church. All refused court-appointed lawyers.
Prosecutor Patricia Jackson delivered her argument in front of a red sign urging: "Stop the Reign of Terror at The House of Prayer."
"No church, no Bible, no constitution, gives you the right to abuse a child," said Jackson, her voice rising with a passion not heard during four days of testimony last week.
She urged the jury: "Convict these people. Protect the children. You are all that they have."
Allen, who spoke to the jury on behalf of all five defendants, cited the Bible as a religious justification for whipping a child. He blamed crime, disrespectful youth and other societal ills on less corporal punishment at home and in schools.
The 70-year-old pastor said House of Prayer parents often use less harsh measures before resorting to corporal punishment. But, he said, "I don't know how a parent can maintain discipline in the home if he can't use a belt or a switch. I didn't think my parents didn't love me because they gave me a whipping. I thank my parents for correcting me while bringing me up and using a switch or a belt when necessary."
Allen complained state law -- which permits corporal punishment as long as it is not excessive -- is too vague for people to follow. He said the state Division of Family and Children Services retaliated against House of Prayer parents because they would not agree to DFCS mandates for disciplining their children.
"When DFCS came after us, made us a target, and we wouldn't submit, it angered them," Allen said. "These children need their daddy and their mama in their home. I do know that DFCS shouldn't be in the business of raising children."
Allen agreed children shouldn't be whipped as badly as the bruises depicted in pictures presented by prosecutors. He suggested DFCS had doctored the photos in a vendetta against the church.
Near the end of the day Monday, the judge asked to see DFCS' proposed plan for returning the six House of Prayer children remaining in foster care to their families. The jury is expected to get the document today.
DFCS seized 49 children of House of Prayer members last year. The six who remain are children of defendants.
Social workers have asked their parents not to leave welts when whipping children, to confine blows to buttocks, not to allow other church members to whip them at the church and to do the spanking themselves, according to testimony last week from Ted Hall, an attorney for DFCS.
© 2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 18 October 2002
Church members sent to jail for whipping kids
House of Prayer pastor says he'll follow the Bible
By Steve Visser and Jill Young Miller
The outspoken Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. was noncommittal Thursday after a jury convicted him and four followers of cruelty to children for whippings at his church.
Asked if he would follow a judge's order to stop advising parents to whip disobedient children, Allen said, "I'm going to follow the Ten Commandments," and would say no more.
The 70-year-old House of Prayer pastor -- who has often quoted the Bible to justify the whippings -- faced the possibility of up to 20 years in prison. He stood with hunched shoulders as Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford sentenced him to 90 days in jail and 10 years of probation.
Allen and four members of his congregation were convicted Thursday and sentenced to jail for the whippings in February 2001 that brought national attention to their small church in northwest Atlanta and touched off debates about corporal punishment.
Bedford said the five defendants clearly love their children, but they "crossed the line" when they badly bruised two boys.
"Sadly as it seems, I'm in the business of protecting children from their parents," Bedford told the court. "What happened here was not about disciplining children. It was about, for lack of a better word, beating children."
The jury took about 19 hours, starting Monday, to convict Allen for overseeing the whippings at the House of Prayer. Allen has run the church for 35 years and is deeply involved in his followers' lives -- from overseeing punishment of their children to helping parents financially. He said his church doesn't advocate corporal punishment for every offense but some children need a "meaningful whipping."
State child welfare officials have called the House of Prayer whippings among the worst cases of child abuse to cross their desks -- primarily because the punishments were done at the church at Allen's direction by men who restrained the boys by their arms and legs, suspending them in the air as they were beaten.
During the trial, Allen acknowledged parents brought children to the plain-brick church for punishment. He said men in the church restrained the youngsters to protect them before whipping their buttocks and backs with a belt.
Allen and the other four church members on trial chose to represent themselves before the judge, declining repeated efforts by Bedford to persuade them to accept help from lawyers.
On Thursday, the judge also ordered Allen to pay an $8,000 fine. He sentenced Charles Ogletree, 30, convicted of wielding the belt, and Emanuel Hardeman, 37, convicted of holding a boy during a whipping, to 75 days in jail, 10 years of probation and $2,500 fines each.
Bedford sentenced Sharon Duncan, 41, to 20 days in jail, five years of probation and a $250 fine, and her 45-year-old husband, David Duncan Sr., to 40 days in jail, eight years of probation and a $500 fine. The Duncans were convicted for bringing their 10-year-old son to the church for a whipping.
The men were told to report to the Fulton County Jail next Friday to begin serving their sentences. Sharon Duncan is to report to jail after her husband returns home to take care of their children.
Bedford warned the defendants he could put them in prison for years if they don't follow his orders on discipline. "I do not want that," the judge said. "You do not want that. I don't think anybody in here wants that."
The judge ordered them to restrict any spanking to their own children, generally only in the presence of immediate family members, to use only an open hand on a child's buttocks during such punishment and to complete an intensive counseling program. He banned them from bringing children to the House of Prayer for punishment and from advising or assisting other parents with punishment.
Among them, the defendants have 18 children.
District Attorney Paul Howard said the sentences would protect the children from the discipline of well-meaning but overzealous parents.
"What I want them to do is stop beating these children," Howard said.
The district attorney said he hoped the threat of serious prison time would restrain Allen and his followers -- this time. In 1993, Allen was convicted of a misdemeanor in DeKalb County for ordering the whipping of a 16-year-old girl. He served 20 days in jail.
Six more House of Prayer members, including the parents of a boy who was whipped, still face trial, possibly later this year. Bedford ordered two trials to help manage the number of defendants.
The next group could avoid trial and jail if they agree to modify their use of corporal punishment, Howard said.
But David Wilson, one of the defendants, shook his head when asked if he would agree to the district attorney's demands in the wake of the guilty verdicts of his pastor and four other church members.
"We're still going to trial," he said. "It's up to the Lord, you know."
The criminal investigation began after Ricky Wilson Jr. and David Duncan Jr. showed up at C.W. Hill Elementary School with welts and bruises on Feb. 28, 2001. Social workers took the boys from their parents and soon seized 47 other House of Prayer children and put them in foster care and group homes. Police arrested Allen and the others.
The pastor's advocacy of the belt to correct unruly children sparked a blaze of publicity. Within a week, Allen went from being the pastor of an obscure nondenominational church in a poor part of Atlanta to a controversial figure in the national news. He appeared in People magazine, on Dateline NBC, on the Sally Jesse Rafael show.
And while many people pilloried the church's members as brutes, others found Allen and his followers to be blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth parents with well-behaved children.
David Duncan Sr., a welder, and Ogletree and Hardeman, landscapers, take pride in providing for their families.
Allen comes off as a caring, if domineering, man. He draws no salary from his church, and his lifestyle is far from lavish. He worked as a landscaper and house painter until retiring. He has raised money in recent years by selling land he inherited, and his followers say he has bought several of them houses and cars and has helped them keep their marriages together.
But then there are the pictures.
The prosecution's photos showed the jury two badly bruised boys who felt the lash in church for misbehaving in school. Allen told jurors whipping is a last-resort punishment, and it has to be painful to be meaningful. Otherwise the child will not fear it.
"I say, 'If you do that, you'll get a whipping,' " the pastor said. "And a light seems to go off in their head." Allen and other church members contended the state doctored photos to make the boys' bodies appear brutally bruised. They called to the witness stand House of Prayer members who said they saw Ricky's whipping in church, and they claimed he wasn't hurt as badly as the photos show. When longtime church member Carolyn Ruth saw the photos, she looked shocked and said, "This is impossible." Allen has said his black congregation's children have tougher skin and need a tougher blow because they haven't been "free" as long as whites and have too much "Africanism" in them, testified Ted Hall, a lawyer with the state Division of Family and Children Services.
Also, Allen advocates marriage for 14-year-old girls to protect them from becoming unwed mothers, living in sin and going on welfare.
Sandra Lang, who grew up in the same neighborhood as many of the church members, said, "We used to laugh at them, going to church to get beat."
The 35-year-old minister with Communities Opposing the Powers of Satan Ministries in Marietta now views House of Prayer as a loving flock being led by a wolf. Lang called Allen's sentence too lenient. "This cult needs to be broken," she said.
Social workers have returned all but six of the 49 children seized from church members. Remaining in foster care are children of the Duncans and of Yolonda and Ricky Wilson Sr., who are to go on trial later.
Thursday's verdict may help the Duncan children come home, said Hall, lead attorney in the Juvenile Court cases over custody of the children. The parents now must abide by punishment guidelines the Department of Family and Children Services has long tried to impose, he said.
"The Duncans will be on probation and under strict rules of conduct," Hall said. "We now have a safety net for those children -- apparently."
Allen's leadership may well determine whether the next case goes to trial and whether his co-defendants successfully complete probation. He had accused the government of ganging up on his small church and trampling his congregation's rights to discipline their children in accordance with their beliefs.
The 130 members of the close-knit church appear deeply loyal to Allen and to his teachings. Many of them are the grown children of men and women the pastor recruited from some of Atlanta's toughest housing projects when he started the House of Prayer in 1966.
Earlier this week, it was clear where their hearts were. While waiting outside the courtroom for a verdict, Allen passed the time preaching to about 40 followers. He proudly recounted what he told the jury when he gave the defendants' closing argument.
"I told them that we chastise our children," the pastor said.
"You don't love them if you don't --" he stopped, waiting for someone to finish his sentence.
"Chastise them!" church members responded.
© 2002 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Athens Banner-Herald, Georgia, 22 October 2002
Pastor convicted of child cruelty stages mock whipping
House of PrayerAssociated Press
ATLANTA -- The Rev. Arthur Allen Jr. used his last sermon before heading to jail to encourage House of Prayer members to continue whipping disobedient children.
Allen, convicted of cruelty to children, took off his belt and waved it behind a 14-year-old boy as part of a mock whipping.
He had two men hold the boy's arms after Allen had shown how easily the boy could escape if Allen tried to hand-spank him alone.
"See if he's going to stand up there and let you hit him with a belt and you don't hold him," Allen said Sunday.
Allen, 70, and four other members were found guilty Thursday of aggravated assault and cruelty to children for whipping two boys in front of the congregation in February 2001.
The pretend whipping Sunday mocked a judge's order that Allen and his followers use only an open hand on their own children's buttocks -- and not to bring them to church to have them whipped while men restrain them.
"I can't maintain discipline in my home by just hand-spanking our children," Allen told his congregation of about 130.
"Amen!" church members responded. "That's right!"
Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr. sentenced the defendants to prison sentences ranging from 20 to 90 days. They must also pay fines, serve probation and attend parenting classes.
Allen was sentenced to 90 days in prison, 10 years probation and an $8,000 fine.
Cincinnati Enquirer, Ohio, 22 October 2002
No indictment for spanking girl, 14
By Sheila McLaughlin
LEBANON - A Warren County grand jury declined to indict a Blue Ash psychologist Monday on a charge of gross sexual imposition for allegedly pulling down a 14-year-old girl's pants and spanking her.
Instead, Gary M. Freudenthal, 43, will face trial on a misdemeanor assault charge involving the Aug. 31 incident in Mason.
Warren County Prosecutor Tim Oliver said the girl was a friend of Mr. Freudenthal's daughter.
"The previous night in Blue Ash, the victim left his house without his permission and got into trouble in Blue Ash," Mr. Oliver said.
So, Mr. Freudenthal went to Mason where the girl lives with her grandmother and allegedly administered the spanking, he said.
The grandmother declined to comment. Mr. Freudenthal's lawyer, Martin Pinales, said police overcharged his client, who was arrested on charges of gross sexual imposition and assault.
Mr. Pinales said the girl was supposed to be spending the night at the Freudenthal residence with Mr. Freudenthal's daughter, but sneaked out of the house alone.
When Mr. Freudenthal found out, he spent the night looking for the girl. He later found out she was arrested.
"He called the grandmother, and she said, 'I can't control her,'" Mr. Pinales said of his client's statement. "He said, 'She needs a good spanking.' She said, 'Do it.'"
Copyright 1995-2002. The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.
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