Monday, October 11, 2010

Woman Acquitted in Winfrey South Africa School Scandal

Original Article

10/11/2010

By JENNY GROSS

Woman acquitted of charges after scandal at Oprah Winfrey's South Africa school for girls

A woman accused of abusing teenagers at Oprah Winfrey's school for girls in South Africa was acquitted of the charges Monday, and Winfrey said she was "profoundly disappointed" by the trial's outcome.

Prosecutors had accused former school matron Tiny Virginia Makopo of trying to kiss and fondle girls at the school soon after it opened in 2007 outside Johannesburg.

Makopo also had been accused of assaulting one of the teens as well as a fellow supervisor.

"The matron who was working at the Oprah Winfrey school was found not guilty on all the sexual assault charges," Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesman for South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority, said Monday. "The magistrate was of the view that the state had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that she was guilty. We won't be appealing the judgment."

Winfrey had called the allegations crushing given her own stated history of childhood sexual abuse and promised an overhaul of the school.

"I will forever be proud of the nine girls who testified with the courage and conviction to be heard," Winfrey said in a statement Monday.

The lavish $40 million Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, which opened in January 2007, aims to give girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a country where schools are struggling to overcome the legacy of apartheid.

"It's unfortunate that this had to happen because what Oprah Winfrey has done for those children in that school — it's really encouraging, it's outstanding, it's really appreciated by South Africans," Mhaga said. "But unfortunately, in the justice systems in every country, it's not about what you know, it's about what you can prove in the court of law."

The school is spread across a 22-acre campus with neat lawns and garden paths decorated with mosaics. It has computer and science labs, a library and a wellness center. The school is home to about 300 girls from across the country.

Winfrey said Monday that the school's staff "is committed to providing a nurturing educational environment so that all of our girls may continue to flourish. And they are indeed thriving."

In March, Winfrey had settled a defamation lawsuit filed in Philadelphia by the school's former headmistress, Nomvuyo Mzamane, who claimed Winfrey defamed her in remarks made in the wake of the 2007 sex-abuse scandal at the school.

Mzamane claimed that she was never told of any sexual abuse. However, Winfrey's lawyers said in a March pretrial memo that Mzamane failed to discipline Makopo despite her history of run-ins with students and fellow staff.

Mzamane said she had trouble finding a job after Winfrey stated she had "lost confidence" in her.

Lawyers for both sides in March said Winfrey and Mzamane met to resolve their differences out of court.


FL - Transient severely beaten after false accusation of rape

Original Article

10/11/2010

By TONY SIMMONS

PANAMA CITY BEACH – A man was beaten bloody and senseless by an unknown group of people after someone falsely accused him of raping an intoxicated woman outside a bar early Sunday morning.

About 12:44 a.m. Sunday, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office was called to Newby’s Too, 4103 Thomas Drive, in reference to a sexual battery, according to an incident report. However, the woman who was identified as the victim said she had not been raped, and a man the crowd had detained as the perpetrator was in serious condition from a severe beating.

A deputy said the 41-year-old transient had been beaten so badly that his eyes were swollen shut and he couldn’t see. He was in and out of consciousness and could not tell authorities his name. Several people were holding rags on the man’s head to soak up blood.

While EMS treated the man, deputies spoke to the supposed victim and others present. The woman said she did not have sex with anyone; she had gone to the parking lot to lie down in a van that belonged to her boyfriend’s buddy. She was hot, so she took off her pants, she said. She saw several people taking the injured man from the van, but she didn’t know what happened.

The woman’s boyfriend said he had sent her to his friend’s van because she was intoxicated, according to the report. He wanted her to sleep it off. Later, he sent his buddy to check on her, and that’s when he found out the other man had been beaten up for supposedly raping the woman.

The man who owns the van told a deputy he had gone outside to check on the woman and saw a man on top of her. He believed the man was in the process of raping her. The report said the man “notified several people, unknown to him” of the attack, and the man was caught and “taken away.” He said he was not aware someone had beaten the alleged attacker until later.

A witness told deputies that he was in the parking lot and saw the supposed perpetrator running through the lot. He heard someone say the man had just raped a girl, so he tackled the man. Several others came over and took the man aside, and he did not see what happened next, he said.

The injured man was taken to Gulf Coast Medical Center for treatment. He had several head injuries, the report said. His eyes were swollen shut, his nose was swollen and bleeding, and he appeared to have blood coming from his eyes. He was coughing up blood.

When he regained consciousness, he told a deputy that he didn’t know how he got in the van or how he got to Newby’s; he denied having sex with anyone. He said he thought he was climbing in the van to get a ride to the beach; the deputy pointed out that he was already at the beach.

The man said he drank a fifth of whisky and two cases of beer that night.

He didn’t know any of the people who had beaten him and couldn’t identify them.

The case is still under investigation.


CA - Sex Crime Suspect Wins, Loses, Wins

Original Article
Court Case File (PDF)

10/01/2010

By R. Scott Moxley

When he was 18 years old [name withheld] of Anaheim did something with a 12-year-old girl that may have involved kisses near a residential pool or forceful intercourse in a garage or both, according to court records.

After the June 2003 incident, an Orange County jury refused to find [name withheld] guilty of committing a lewd act on a child under the age of 14. Instead, they found him guilty only of misdemeanor assault.

Despite that verdict Superior Court Judge David A. Hoffer took the unusual step of punishing [name withheld] as if he'd been found guilty of a sex crime. Hoffer, a former assistant United States Attorney, made him register publicly as a sexual predator. Registration also prohibited him from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children gather.

This week, a California Court of Appeal based in Santa Ana overturned Hoffer's ground-breaking decision.

"The court's imposition of sex offender registration for misdemeanor assault effectively increased the penalty beyond the statutory maximum," wrote Justice Raymond Ikola on behalf of a panel that included Kathleen O'Leary and Eileen Moore. "Discretionary sex offender registration entailing the residency restriction cannot be imposed upon a defendant on the basis of facts not found beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury."

Hoffer's attempt at judicial activism fails.


UT - With open arms and open eyes, churches minister to sex offenders

Original Article

10/08/2010

By Laura Bauer

Within days of attending a Sunday service at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, a Johnson County, Kan., man received an unexpected e-mail.

Security officials at the Leawood megachurch wanted to see him immediately. They told him this summer that some rules needed to be set if he wished to come back to worship.

He must go straight to the sanctuary before service and leave immediately after it ended — no dawdling. There would be no direct contact with church staff.

Only a single-stool restroom on the church campus could be used.

And under no circumstances could he enter the children's wing of the church.

The man is a registered sex offender, convicted seven years ago of possessing child pornography. He's also one of a special class of worshippers whom most churches across the country want to welcome — but very carefully.

"While we're a very inclusive church family, at the same time, we feel we have a responsibility to have a safe environment for our members and visitors," said Peter Metz, communications director for the Church of the Resurrection. "It's a practical solution, much better than denying them access to the church."

Sex offenders across the country face laws and regulations that keep them from living near schools, parks, bus stops and pools. Some neighborhoods created association rules banning offenders from residing there.

Now, churches are in the mix, trying to welcome parishioners while draping a protective cloak over the children and others in the next pew.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church added wording to its manual last month that sex offenders can restore their memberships but never hold a post involving unsupervised contact with children.

Earlier this summer, a Georgia law took effect allowing sex offenders to volunteer in church only if they're not around children.

In New Hampshire, a man has sued for the right to attend a Jehovah's Witnesses church with a chaperone. [name withheld], who served about eight years in prison for 61 counts of child pornography, has been welcomed by the congregation. A church elder volunteered to chaperone.

But being around anyone under the age of 18 is a violation of his probation, and a judge denied his request. Attorney Barbara Keshen of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union argued his case last month before the state Supreme Court.

"On the one hand, every citizen has the freedom to exercise their religion," Keshen said. "On the other hand, churches want to make sure no member of their congregation is in danger."

Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights, said: "I think churches are struggling to find that middle ground."

By nature, and God's word, churches welcome all people. Hate the sin, love the sinner, the belief goes.

But many churches say open arms have to come with open eyes. In the past several years, churches have done everything from requiring limited access agreements to prohibiting some from coming inside the church at all.

"We believe they have spiritual needs that could help them on their path to recovery. We want to be part of their rehabilitation," said Jim Bradford at the Assemblies of God national headquarters in Springfield, Mo. "But we have to be proactive. The stakes are too high."

His church leadership recommends that its 12,000 churches adopt some restrictions but doesn't mandate them. In the past, Bradford was lead pastor at Central Assembly of God in Springfield, where several sex offenders had attended.

First, Bradford said, he and other leaders would find out what the circumstances of the offenses were. Then, they would tailor the restrictions.

Sometimes, offenders would get offended, but the church stood firm. In one case, a man was told not to come back because leaders felt he wouldn't obey the restrictions.

"By ministering to them, it's not necessarily saying, 'We trust you,' " Bradford said. "It does say that 'within Christ, we have hope for you.' "

Janet Taylor, a minister at Kansas City's Unity Temple on the Plaza, agrees. Her church makes sure children and other members are safe by monitoring security cameras set up throughout the church.

Anyone working with children goes through a background check. But the front door is open for offenders wanting to turn their lives around.

"From my perspective, it's important to have someone attend church if they were in that situation," Taylor said. "Even though they acted inappropriately in the past, we would still strive to see the Christ-like essence within them."

Churches are most cautious with volunteers. Some routinely check sex offender registries.

At Lenexa Christian, church leaders make sure volunteers working with young people have no convictions of a sexual nature. If they do, that doesn't preclude them from being involved in other areas of the church.

"We're trying to reach out to them in love, also," said pastor Kirk Ruchotzke, who oversees Christian education at the church. "Just because there's something in their background doesn't mean God can't use them in some type of ministry."

For the last several years, the Johnson County man attended a weekly group for adults, sponsored by the Church of the Resurrection.

Some members knew his status. He wasn't hiding.

That's why he expressed surprise at the e-mail and the requirement to sign the agreement to be allowed to return. He felt his rights were violated, but he has declined to discuss the episode further.

Metz, a church spokesman, said the man remained under the radar until recently.

"Our safety and security folks were not aware of him," Metz said. "Every offender we become aware of, we ask them to sign our agreement."

Restrictions are a good security tool for churches — as long as they're accompanied by support, said Steve Vann, who helps run Keeping Kids Safe Ministries, based in Tennessee.

The group helps churches make proactive decisions regarding sex offenders in their congregations. What worries Vann are the churches that don't address the issue at all.

"When you ignore it, abandon or shut off these people, it makes it more likely for them to reoffend," Vann said.

As a prison minister in central Kansas for 20 years, Lynn McBride has offered his services to criminals and offenders for years. To him, the importance of religion in rehabilitation is clear. He offered the example of one sex offender who remade his life once out of prison. He is now remarried, has a good job and is active in his church.

"He turned to God in prison," McBride said. "He's just a wonderful young man. He's doing great."

Through another offender, McBride knows what can happen when the support and counseling aren't there.

The prison minister didn't meet one inmate until he was imprisoned after a second offense. Between prison terms, the child molester went to a church, volunteered in the nursery and abused a child there. The man is no longer behind bars and, through ministry and support, appears to be obeying the law.

"There are good stories. There are tragedies," McBride said. "It's important for them to be able to call someone, to have a church, a pastor who understands."