An East Wenatchee pastor and his wife - accused of being the masterminds behind an alleged sex ring - were found innocent Monday of molesting and raping children in their church and home.
A Douglas County jury acquitted Robert “Roby” Roberson and his wife, Connie, of all 14 charges after a three-week trial that featured 53 witnesses.
“The verdict’s in on Wenatchee, Washington,” said Roby Roberson, 50. “There is no sex ring in Wenatchee, Washington. There never has been.”
“After working so hard and spending so much time, we’re certainly disappointed,” said Prosecutor Steve Clem.
The couple claimed since their arrest last March to be targets of an overzealous cop across the Columbia River in Wenatchee.
Detective Bob Perez, Wenatchee’s lead sex crimes investigator, uncovered what he called two loosely organized sex rings operating in the valley since 1988.
Perez’s key child witness was his own foster daughter, who alone claimed 89 adults molested her. The Robersons were vocal critics of Perez and his investigation.
In the past year, 17 men and women either pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial, authorities said.
Critics of Perez’s investigation are calling for a federal review of the case, saying every arrest is tainted with the unreliable testimony of troubled children and no physical evidence. They note that nearly all of the suspects are poor and functionally retarded, and that confessions likely were coerced.
All four Douglas County cases have resulted in losses for the prosecution - three by acquittal and one when charges were dropped.
While Douglas County authorities said they investigated their cases independently of Perez, they conceded that the Wenatchee officer was the catalyst.
Felony charges against six people in Chelan County have been dismissed for lack of evidence. One case is pending.
Perez could not be reached for comment Monday.
Critics of the sex ring investigation and supporters of the Robersons cheered and sobbed when the verdicts were read.
“We are just thrilled,” said Connie Fry, who co-chairs Concerned Citizens for Legal Accountability in Wenatchee. “It was a travesty.”
Kathryn Lyon, a Pierce County public defender who has worked for months punching holes in the sex-ring case, said every conviction resulting from Perez’s investigation should be overturned. New trials should be granted, she said.
Clem said the verdicts in the Roberson case in no way affect the Chelan County convictions.
“Each case is very unique and very individual,” the prosecutor said.
The Robersons said they will work immediately to regain custody of their 5-year-old daughter, Rebekah, whom they were accused of molesting.
Rebekah took the stand and denied being abused. She is a ward of the court and now lives in Western Washington with relatives.
“All I want is to see my baby,” said Connie Roberson, 46. “I still feel like it’s a dream, and I’m not sure I’m awake yet.”
Her husband said he met with four jurors after the afternoon verdict was announced. He said some of them cried.
“They are so angry and upset that this case was even brought to trial,” Roby Roberson said.
Clem is not yet finished with the Robersons, however. They go to trial Dec. 21 on charges they hid their assets and stole $27,000 in welfare benefits. They deny it.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo