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Wednesday, December 27, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Papa Pilgrim pops a plea

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A self-styled religious patriarch known as "Papa Pilgrim" pleaded no contest Tuesday to felony charges including incest.

Robert Hale, 65, was accused of molesting one of his 15 children over a seven-year span, including a period when his family lived in seclusion at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

The Pilgrims, as they once called themselves, gained notoriety for their feud with the National Park Service over access to the family's remote homestead within the 13.2 million-acre park.

In Tuesday's hearing, Hale pleaded no contest to consolidated counts of first-degree sexual assault, incest and coercion.

He told Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood that he never sexually assaulted anyone but decided to plead "for the good of his family," said Palmer assistant district attorney Richard Payne.

Hale had been scheduled for a January 16 trial on 30 felony counts involving one of his daughters. The incest and two other counts were consolidated and charges of kidnapping and assault were dropped in a deal Hale made in exchange for a state-approved sentence of 14 years.

Family member Moses Hale, 22, said no one in the family wanted to comment.

link | Background story: Papa Pilgrim says he obey's God's will & The Pilgrim Story