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Sunday, July 30, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Beecher story beautifully told

"THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN AMERICA: THE BIOGRAPHY OF HENRY WARD BEECHER," by Debby Applegate, Doubleday, 527 pages, $27.95

The sex scandal in which Henry Ward Beecher was the protagonist involved Elizabeth Tilton, a member of the congregation Beecher preached to each Sunday. According to Tilton, the sex did not come "out of low or vulgar thoughts either on her part or his, but always from pure affection and a high religious love." She felt "justified before God in her intimacy with him."

That is according to the magnificent new book, "The Most Famous Man in America," by Debby Applegate. And while a significant portion of the book is devoted to this 1872 scandal involving a minister and one of his flock, it's far from the only thing of interest.

Henry Ward Beecher, who is not well known to contemporary Americans, was bigger than life. He was surely charismatic and he got his kicks mainly from delivering emotional, powerful sermons at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights.

Later, he expanded his reach by traveling the lecture circuit all over the country. In those days, most people got their entertainment either from going to church or attending a lecture. In the process, Beecher became extraordinarily familiar to most Americans.

Newspapers of the day reveal him to have been by far their most popular subject — even in the midst of the Civil War.

Beecher's sermons were not characterized by fire and brimstone. He believed that the Puritan sermons delivered by his father, Lyman, were incorrect. Henry not only denied the existence of hell, he decried the tendency of other preachers to teach an angry God. Instead, he preached a gospel of unconditional love.

In a manner that is somewhat reminiscent of Billy Graham, Beecher taught
ecumenical Christianity. He was not interested in knowing which church was better than another — he just wanted to preach Christ and his love. But his sermons were personally memorable because he delivered them with such vivid personality and humor.

Off the pulpit, Beecher was a fun-loving man who spent much time with his kids. He demonstrated the highest ideals of fatherhood.

He even took the time to write a bad novel, "Norwood."

Beecher lived in the middle of the woman's suffrage movement, the literary ideals that emanated from Emerson and Thoreau, the Darwinian interpretation of evolution and the bloody Civil War. He opposed slavery with a vengeance, so he was caught in the political crossfire of the day.

Like most great men, Beecher was flawed — as a pastor he hated visiting the sick and the shut-ins. Instead, he gravitated toward women and anyone who was literary or lively in mind. He was hooked on books and had to resort to chicanery to get new books into the house without explaining them to his wife.

Part of his problems lay in the fact that he married too early, and he married the wrong woman. He and Eunice had virtually nothing in common, and he certainly could not talk with her about intellectual matters. She even seemed unaware that he had strayed.

With this impressive volume, Applegate, a first-rate narrative historian, takes her place beside David McCullough and Joseph Ellis in her ability to make history interesting. She truly writes for the general reader, even though her research, as demonstrated by her bibliography, was massive.

She also shows genuine appreciation for her subject, but she does it without compromising her objectivity as a historian.

Beecher, who deserved this excellent treatment, jumps off these pages fully realized because Applegate writes so beautifully.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Minister convicted of public indecency

In a trial outcome Friday that apparently stunned members of an Athens, Ohio, church congregation, a Hocking County jury convicted the church's pastor of committing public indecency in a state park lavatory on May 15.

"Oh, no," blurted out one audience member in the packed courtroom, as the jury foreman in Hocking County Municipal Court read out the guilty verdict against 57-year-old H. Willard Love, senior minister of the Athens Church of Christ.

One young woman in the audience burst into tears, and could be seen outside the courtroom later, sobbing inconsolably.

Love was arrested after he allegedly masturbated in front of an undercover park ranger in the restroom at the spillway of Lake Logan State Park, off U.S. Rt. 33. After deliberating more than an hour and a half Friday, a four-man, four-woman jury found him guilty despite Love's having put on a vigorous defense in which he portrayed his arrest as the result of a misunderstanding by the arresting officer.

Judge Richard M. Wallar fined Love $500 and court costs (which will probably be much more than the fine), and sentenced him to serve three days in jail and 14 eight-hour days of community service.

Hocking County assistant prosecutor David Sams didn't ask for a specific sentence, though he did tell Wallar that park rangers have had a longstanding problem with sexual activity at the Lake Logan restroom, and that "they have a legitimate interest in sending a message" that such offenses will be treated seriously.

Defense attorney K. Robert Toy asked Wallar not to give his client jail time, noting that Love has no prior criminal record and is a respected clergyman. "Mr. Love is a great asset to our community," Toy argued. "There is no sense in putting him in jail."

Wallar, however, gave Love 60 days in jail, with 50 days suspended. He gave him the options of serving 10 days behind bars, or doing three days plus community service, of which Love chose the latter.

Sams said later that if Love had pled to the charge against him - a third-degree misdemeanor - he could probably have been given a small fine, as other men arrested the same day for public indecency at the restroom were. By choosing to fight the charge at trial, however, Sams said, Love opened himself up to a harsher penalty if convicted.

"It's rather common that if someone goes through a trial and testifies, and the jury comes back and says they didn't believe the testimony, that (the defendant gets) some jail time," he explained.

Love said he must confer with Toy as to whether he wants to appeal the verdict, but continued to insist he did nothing illegal in the park restroom on the morning of May 15.

"I know I'm innocent, (but) I respect the court," he declared. "And I appreciate all the support that the community has given me. We did our best to go to trial to try to prove our innocence."

IN THE TRIAL, the state relied on the testimony of two rangers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and a tape made of a brief exchange in the restroom between Love and one of the rangers, who was in plainclothes and wearing a hidden microphone.

The defense called as witnesses Love, his wife, and his doctor.

The rangers told a story in which Love entered the empty restroom, and when officer Jeremy T. Davis entered behind him in plainclothes, found Love "massaging his penis back and forth very, very rapidly with his right hand." When Davis struck up a conversation with Love, he testified, Love continued to masturbate in front of him, and made statements suggesting he might want to leave with the officer and go to the second man's residence.

Love offered a wholly different explanation for what was heard on the surveillance tape. He readily admitted that when Davis entered the lavatory, he, Love, was massaging his genitals, but said he often has to do this in order to urinate, because of a medical condition he has suffered for many years. (Love's wife confirmed this in her testimony.)

The minister explained the suspicious-sounding comments he made to Davis by saying he became frightened that Davis planned to do him harm. He noted that the undercover officer struck up a conversation while standing behind him, out of plain view and blocking his exit from the restroom, then let about 30 seconds go by without saying anything. After this, he said, Davis made the observation that he didn't see anyone else around, which made Love even more uneasy.

At this point, Love testified, he looked around to locate the officer, initially couldn't find him, and then was shocked to see Davis bent over, peering around a low dividing wall at Love's crotch with a "weird grin" on his face.

"I look around and he is bent over with his hands on his knees and his head is crooked around like this," he demonstrated. "I freaked out... I had never experienced anything in a public restroom like that."

Many of his comments to Davis, according to Love, such as asking him if he were married or if he had "a place" to go to nearby, were designed to keep the other man relaxed, with the aim of Love's getting out of the restroom and to his car. Love noted that he has experience as a counselor in dealing with people in tense situations, and has learned to speak calmly and parrot what the other person says.

"I'm just trying to get him to back off, so I just repeated what he said to me to get him to back off," he claimed. "I know if I can get to my car, I can get away from him... I just want to get away from this guy."

The prosecution, however, hammered on Love's comments to Davis such as "what are you looking for," "too bad you're not in Columbus," and "you got a place?" Love at one point on the tape also tells Davis that he doesn't like to meet people in public restrooms because "I just don't feel safe."

Sams also put heavy emphasis on a questionnaire Love answered for officers after his arrest in which he supposedly answered "yes" to two questions, one about whether he knew he had been engaging in a high-risk activity, and the other about whether he knew that men soliciting sexual activity in public restrooms have been assaulted and murdered.

Love admitted answering yes to both questions. However, he said, he did not hear the portion of the second question referring to sexual soliciting, and heard only the part about men being murdered in public restrooms. Having known someone in Athens this happened to, he said, he answered yes - and only found out afterwards that the question was phrased in such a way as to imply that he himself had been looking for sex in the restroom.

Love also noted that the officers never gave him the questionnaire to review, and that he never signed it to approve his answers.

ANOTHER POINT OF Sams' case was the question of why Love chose a smelly, open-pit lavatory some distance off the highway, rather than going to one of the closer businesses at the U.S. Rt. 33-Ohio Rt. 664 exit, or to a rest stop with flush toilets a little further up the highway.

Love explained that when he takes medication for a chronic sinus infection, which had flared up recently, he has a very difficult time urinating, and sometimes has to go to great lengths massaging his back, thighs or genitals to be able to pass water.

Both Love's wife, Phyllis Love, and his doctor, William Rankin, backed up Love's claim that when he takes medicine for a sinus infection - which he was suffering at the time of his arrest - he has great difficulty urinating.

Phyllis Love said her husband sometimes has to massage himself for a long time at home to urinate. "When he's in that condition, (it can take) at least 10 minutes, or even more," she said. "You would think that someone was trying to masturbate, but it's not that."

She also confirmed that the day of Love's arrest, the minister had a full and tightly scheduled agenda of pastoral visits, including trips to Nelsonville, Lancaster and Chillicothe. He was on his way to Lancaster when he stopped off to use the restroom.

Sams repeatedly questioned Love as to why he didn't choose a more convenient and modern bathroom, and Love repeatedly told him that he wanted someplace quiet and preferably empty of other people, because he knew he might have to make an extended effort to urinate. If the restroom didn't meet his requirements, he told the prosecutor, "it could be on the side of the road two feet behind the guardrail, and it wouldn't do me any good."

In his summation, Sams told the jury that he believes Love was legitimately out on church business on May 15 as the minister claimed, "but I don't doubt that he's looking for a quickie, either."

He acknowledged that nothing on the surveillance tape clearly records Love making a sexual proposal to the officer (which he wasn't charged with), but suggested that if the jury could read between the lines, it would conclude that that's what Love had in mind.

"He didn't cross that line to where he actually solicited sex from the officer, but you can see where they were headed," he said.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Associate Pastor Arrested

Former Peace Lutheran Church Associate Pastor, Gregory Briehl, faced two judges. A General District Court judge set a $2,500 bond for 52-year-old Briehl on two counts of videotaping non-consenting adults and a Juvenile Relations Court judge set the bond at $100,000 for another charge, 20 counts of possession of child pornography.

"I'm in total shock, this is a small neighborhood and all the kids play together," said Ava Kessler.

Kessler is a mother of two who just found out her neighbor, Gregory Briehl is in police custody for possessing child porn on his computer. Prosecutors charged him with 20 counts.

"Definitely 20 charges are a lot of charges for possession of child pornography," said Lt. John Teixeira, of the Albemarle County Police Department.

Albemarle County Police said Briehl also placed video cameras around his home, taping women and possibly children without them even knowing it. Court documents show Briehl's wife found out and tipped off police.

"We went out and obtained several search warrants which we served on both businesses and private residences throughout the county and the city," said Lt. Teixeira.

One of those places was Peace Lutheran Church in Charlottesville where Briehl was a counselor and an associate pastor. Church officials said they had not idea Briehl was involved in this activity at his home and that they are not aware of any similar incidents happening on church property.

But it scares neighbors like Kessler to think there child could be a victim.

"I think this stuff happens all over and you can never be too careful and those are the important things," said Kessler.

Police believe there are more victims that have not been identified on the video tapes. They are asking anyone who may have been a victim to come forward and contact Detective Chuck Marshall at 434-296-5807.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Evangelist arrested on federal charges

A Pensacola evangelist who owns the defunct Dinosaur Adventure Land in Pensacola was arrested Thursday on 58 federal charges, including failing to pay $473,818 in employee-related taxes and making threats against investigators.

Of the 58 charges, 44 were filed against Kent Hovind and his wife, Jo, for evading bank reporting requirements as they withdrew $430,500 from AmSouth Bank between July 20, 2001, and Aug. 9, 2002.

At the couple's first court appearance Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Miles Davis, Kent Hovind professed not to understand why he is being prosecuted. Some 20 supporters were in the courtroom.

"I still don't understand what I'm being charged for and who is charging me," he said.

Kent Hovind, who often calls himself "Dr. Dino," has been sparring with the IRS for at least 17 years on his claims that he is employed by God, receives no income, has no expenses and owns no property.

"The debtor apparently maintains that as a minister of God, everything he owns belongs to God and he is not subject to paying taxes to the United States on money he receives for doing God's work," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Lewis Killian Jr. wrote when he dismissed a claim from Hovind in 1996.

Hovind, an avowed creationist, has widely publicized his "standing offer" to pay $250,000 to anyone who can provide scientific evidence of evolution.

"No one has ever observed a dog produce a non-dog," Hovind once wrote in reply to a New York Times article.

In the indictment unsealed Thursday, a grand jury alleges that Kent Hovind failed to pay $473,818 in federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes on employees at his Creation Science Evangelism/Ministry between March 31, 2001, and Jan. 31, 2004.

As part of the ministry, Hovind operated the Dinosaur Adventure Land at 5800 N. Palafox St., which included rides, a museum and a science center. He also sold literature, videos, CDs and other materials and provided lecture services and live debates for a fee.

The indictment alleges Kent Hovind paid his employees in cash and labeled them "missionaries" to avoid payroll tax and FICA requirements.

On Thursday, a message on the Dinosaur Adventure Land telephone welcomed visitors to the place "where dinosaurs and the Bible meet" and stated that the museum and science center were closed temporarily.

The indictment also says the Hovinds' made cash withdrawals from AmSouth Bank in a manner that evaded federal requirements for reporting cash transactions.

The withdrawals were for $9,500 or $9,600, just below the $10,000 starting point for reporting cash transactions.

Most of the withdrawals were days apart. For example, the indictment shows three withdrawals of $9,500 each on July 20, July 23 and July 26 in 2001.

The indictment also charges Kent Hovind with impeding an IRS investigation.

Among the ways he is accused of doing:

? Filing a frivolous lawsuit against the agency demanding damages for criminal trespass.

? Filing an injunction against an IRS special agent.

? Filing false complaints against the IRS for false arrest, excessive use of force and theft.

? Making threats against investigators and those cooperating with the investigation.

Judge Davis released the Hovinds from custody pending their trial, which will be scheduled during their arraignment at 2 p.m. Monday.

Over Kent Hovind's protests, the judge took away his passport and guns Hovind claimed belonged to his church.

Hovind argued that he needs his passport to continue his evangelism work. He said "thousands and thousands" are waiting to hear him preach in South Africa next month.

But Davis agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer, who argued that "like-minded people" might secret Hovind away if he left the country.

As for the guns, Davis said "ownership was not the issue."

Kent Hovind also has had run-ins with state authorities.

In April, Circuit Judge Michael Allen ordered the buildings at Dinosaur Adventure Land closed because Hovind failed to obtain a building permit during the 2002 construction. The outdoor theme park was allowed to stay open.

Members of Creation Science Evangelism said at the time that building permits violated their "deeply held" religious beliefs.

While the building permit case was tied up in a four-year court battle, ownership of the theme park was turned over to Glen Stoll, who works with Hovind on legal issues and is based in Washington.

Last year, the U.S. attorney in Seattle filed a lawsuit against Stoll, charging him with encouraging people to avoid tax payments by claiming to be religious entities, according to news reports.


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Related article: Dr. Dino Theme Park Shut Down

Thursday, July 13, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Arrested for Video Voyeurism

WEST MEMPHIS, AR -- A community is shocked to learn that one of their religious leaders is facing criminal charges, but it's not just any charges he's facing. The West Memphis man is accused of secretly videotaping an underage girl and not only is the suspect a pastor, but he also is a newly-elected member of the Crittenden County Quorum Court.

It all started on Friday, July 7th when Charlotte Moten made a complaint that she had found a video camera in her 14-year-old daughter's bedroom. The accused suspect, 61 year old Jack Moten, also lives in the home on South 12th Street in West Memphis.

After using a search warrant at his home Tuesday, police arrested Moten and charged him with a Class D Felony of voyeurism and video voyeurism against a girl. While reading the charges to the judge at Moten's court arraignment, the court official said Moten did not deny the charges to police.

"Upon interview, the defendant admitted to placing it there," read the court official to the judge.

After the arrest, police also issued a protection order for the girl's safety.

"He was entering the protection order into the computer, when he discovered that this Jack Moten was also wanted in Shelby County, Tennessee for fraud and identity theft charges," says Mike Allen, the West Memphis Assistant Police Chief.

The Tennessee charges stem from 2005, in which Moten allegedly used a false identity of an elderly nursing home patient to buy a Cadillac Escalade from Bud Davis Cadillac in Memphis. Once the hearing ended and bond was set, Moten's family and neighbors left in an uproar, some outraged by the charges and others feeling differently

"Whatever that happens I think it's what he deserves," claimed a neighbor of Moten.

"He's a minister. He's a nice neighbor. The charges are ridiculous. I really believed he's been framed," says Sylvia Breton, a longtime neighbor of Moten.

And some had even stronger things to say.

"He's nothing but a pedophile and a pervert," says one women of Moten.

We later caught up with some West Memphis residents who have known Moten for years and Mattie Davis says she knew him as a good person in the community and was shocked to hear the news.

"If it happened, it certainly would have to be proven to me before I believe it. He never appeared to be that type of person. He was a family person," says Mattie Davis, a longtime West Memphis resident.

Moten's bond was set at $35,000 and he is set to appear again before judge on August 29th.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for domestic violence

The senior pastor of Bloomington Illinois' Second Presbyterian Church has been put on medical leave following his arrest during a domestic dispute with his estranged wife, church officials said Monday.

The Rev. Ted Pierce has been charged with aggravated battery, criminal trespass to a residence and domestic battery after a June 29 incident. Prosecutors say he choked his wife, from whom he is separated, and threatened to kill her.

Pierce has been active in the community during his five years at the helm of Second Presbyterian, helping to create the Compassion Center, a day center for homeless people in downtown Bloomington, and ShareFest, an annual countywide volunteerism program.

The Rev. Roane Deckert, who has served as minister of pastoral care under Ted Pierce and has assumed Pierce's pastoral duties, said many were shocked and saddened to hear about the incident and continue to support Pierce.

"Do we approve of what happened? Of course not. Nobody in their right mind would," Deckert said. "But the issue is that Ted is still one of us. These things happen to people. Nobody is in a position to point fingers."

Report of a dispute

The dispute started when Pierce arrived at his wife's new home and learned she was inside with a male friend, according to court records.

Prosecutors say Ted Pierce entered the house, grabbed Laura Pierce by the neck and began choking her in an attempt to make her admit the man was her boyfriend, court records state.

Ted Pierce then held a knife to Laura Pierce and said he was going to kill her if she didn't confess by the time he finished counting to three, according to the charges.

Laura Pierce suffered several scratches and wounds from the knife as she pushed it away from her body, charges state; those wounds led to the charge of aggravated battery.

Ted Pierce eventually left the home after his wife told him to think of their two children, court records said.

The man who had been in the house with Laura Pierce left through a back door moments before Ted Pierce gained entry to the house, court records showed.

Ted Pierce referred all questions about the incident to Bloomington defense attorney Leann Hill when contacted Monday by the Pantagraph. Hill could not be reached for comment.

Arraigned Friday

Pierce was arraigned on the charges Friday and remains free after posting $1,500 cash. A judge has ordered that he have no contact with Laura Pierce or her residence.

Meanwhile, Pierce will remain senior pastor at Second Presbyterian until further action is taken by members of the personnel committee, said Deckert.

David Strand, who was president of Illinois State University from 1995 to 1999, serves on the committee that would take action on Pierce's status.

"Right now at this point, there are no plans for the committee to take action," Strand said Monday. "We continue to pray for Ted and Laura Pierce, and their children, during these difficult times."

Second Presbyterian, which has more than 1,500 members, is one of the larger churches in the Twin Cities.

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