Former elder heads to trial on sex charges

Former elder heads to trial on sex charges

Staff WriterNovember 8, 2005 

A former Jehovah's Witnesses minister accused of repeatedly having sex with two underage girls in the group's Siler City church is scheduled to go to trial today.

Oscar Omar Osorto Sr., 47, of Liberty faces 27 sex-related charges, including that he had intercourse with two sisters starting when the girls were about 12 years old.

For four years starting in March 2000, according to court documents, Osorto had sex with the girls inside the congregation's Kingdom Hall, as well as in his car and possibly other locations.

He was arrested in July 2004 and was released on $50,000 bail a few days later.

But on Monday in Superior Court, Osorto's attorney told Judge Stafford Bullock that no physical evidence exists that Osorto touched the girls.

In a request to prohibit expert witnesses from testifying about physical examinations, public defender Ken Richardson said one girl's exam was normal and the other's results could have been caused by having sex with her boyfriend, or another possible assault.

Richardson said prosecutors essentially were left with stories, and "there is no physical evidence to support them."

Osorto was one of several elders in the church's Spanish-language congregation until last year when he was "disfellowshipped," or kicked out of the church, after the rape allegations surfaced, according to court records.

Elders are supposed to provide spiritual guidance to church members, using teachings based on the Bible, said Jonathan Dunn, an elder in the English-language Siler City congregation. "They have to be good examples to meet the high standards," he said.

In their roles, elders may counsel other members of the church, and Jehovah's Witnesses consider that communication confidential even though they often keep written records. The congregation's elders asked the court last month not to force them to testify or to share those records. A judge decided the elders could be subpoenaed to testify about what the girls said but did not have to testify about communications with Osorto.

However, Dunn said the group never discourages those with complaints of abuse from reporting them to law enforcement, though in some instances leaders may choose to report something themselves.

"We are not going to protect anybody," Dunn said, adding, "This matter of child abuse is just something disgusting to us, and one is too many."

Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or jessica.rocha@newsobserver.com.

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