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Thursday, February 28, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor guilty of raping girls in congregation

A pastor described by police as charismatic and controlling pleaded guilty Wednesday to numerous counts of child rape and molestation involving five young girls in Kitsap County.

Robbin Leeroy Harper, 60, leader of The Church, faces more than 26 years in prison, though prosecutors and his own lawyer have agreed to recommend a 23-year term when Harper is sentenced April 9.

"We're happy with this," said Brenda, the mother of one victim, who asked that her last name not be published in order to shield her daughter's identity. "Everybody is relieved. My daughter is happy about it, too."

The young woman, now 20, called police last fall to report that Harper had been molesting her since she was 12. He told the pre-teen -- as well as 7- and 8-year-old victims -- that he was showing them pornographic material and teaching them to perform oral sex on him as preparation for marriage, according to court documents.

"I'm not really about revenge," said Brenda, thinking about her daughter. "He's going to have to stand before God for what he's done. It's just been really hard."

According to interviews with police and former members of The Church, Harper dictated everything -- from where congregants could work to the people they married to the type of cars they drove.

Brenda agreed, saying that she and her husband had left the group, which worshipped in a compound in South Colby guarded by a fence and unidentifiable from the road, because Harper was "controlling our lives."

However, their daughter and son remained, becoming ever more entwined, to the point at which the pastor and his wife became the teens' "spiritual mom and dad, and we kind of lost our authority over them," Brenda said.

At least 10 women and young girls have come forward with sexual abuse accusations since Harper was charged in November.

Deputy Prosecutor Kelly Montgomery was stunned at the hold Harper had over his congregation.

"It is amazing to me how much power someone can wield and use to take advantage of someone else," she said. "Whether they're pastors or police officers or priests, it just cautions all of us to be on alert with our kids. It can happen under your nose."

Harper's attorney, Thomas Weaver, said his client had never planned to stand trial.

"He had every intention, from the beginning, of taking responsibility for his actions," Weaver said.