Pastor pleads not guilty in child sex abuse case
NEOSHO, MO. ? A pastor accused of repeatedly molesting a young girl from his church pleaded not guilty Wednesday in an expanding investigation of alleged ritual child abuse by five leaders of two affiliated church communities in rural southwest Missouri.
George Otis Johnston, 63, pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, is charged in Newton County with eight counts of statutory sodomy. He entered the plea during a brief arraignment.
Later Wednesday, prosecutors in neighboring McDonald County charged him with one felony count of child molestation. Johnston and four leaders of a reclusive church compound there are accused of repeatedly molesting and having sex with young girls from their flock.
The new charge relates to the same girl named as a victim in the first eight counts against Johnston. A probable cause statement alleges that Johnston repeatedly molested the girl at the McDonald County church over a period of five years, starting when she was 11 years old.
The felony complaint alleges the acts happened “as part of a ritual or ceremony” before and after church services at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church, a live-in church community whose leaders also are charged with abusing girls. The complaint said Johnston called his acts “angel kisses.”
At his arraignment, Johnston appeared in a brown suit and white shirt. He declined to answer reporters’ questions as he walked from the hearing to his attorney’s office across the street on the Neosho square.
Circuit Judge Gregory Stremel scheduled a preliminary hearing for Sept. 18.
Johnston and four elders of Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church have been charged with multiple counts of repeatedly sexually abusing young girls from their churches as far back as the late 1970s.
The Rev. Raymond Lambert, 51; his wife, Patty Lambert, 49; and her brothers Paul Epling, 53, and Tom Epling, 51, also have entered pleas of not guilty.
Investigators have said they expect the two cases to widen against new defendants as more alleged victims come forward.
Johnston is charged by prosecutors with repeatedly molesting a girl starting in 1997 when she was 8 years old and continuing until April of this year.
The alleged victim told investigators that when she was around age 12, Johnston told her that “he was ordained by God to fulfill her needs as a woman,” according to a probable cause statement.
The pastor also said “that if she would have sexual intercourse with him that she would remain a virgin and remain pure.”
The girl refused intercourse but continued to be molested, she told investigators.
Johnston is the uncle of Raymond Lambert. Johnston’s church, whose members live on a 10-acre leased property in Granby near Neosho, is an offshoot of the older and larger McDonald County community led by Lambert.
Lambert is charged with repeatedly molesting two underage girls with the help of his wife, sometimes as part of a ritual or ceremony, according to court filings. The pastor allegedly told each of the girls, “We are preparing your body for service to God.”
Paul Epling and Tom Epling are accused of repeatedly having sex with girls as young as age 4 in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Grand Valley is on a 100-acre farm on a remote gravel road in eastern McDonald County. Neighbors have said church members kept mostly to themselves.
Investigators have said the McDonald County community, started in the 1970s, numbered up to 100 people until recently. Many have left during the abuse investigation, and as few as about a dozen may still be living there.
The smaller Newton County community numbers about 35 to 45 people, investigators said.