Attorney alleges ranch director paid for witness’ silence
An unexpected witness may testify that former Morning Star Boys’ Ranch director Joseph Weitensteiner had him procure boys for sex and then gave the witness money years later to keep it quiet, according to a motion Thursday in the first sex-abuse trial against the ranch.
The dramatic revelation in the lawsuit by Kenneth Putnam came outside the presence of the Superior Court jury when Judge Kathleen O’Connor demanded to know why Putnam’s attorney had called an unscheduled witness three weeks into proceedings.
That witness is Michael Clarke, a former boys’ ranch resident who is currently an inmate at the Airway Heights Corrections Center on a conviction of first-degree theft.
Putnam’s attorney told the judge Clarke informed him Friday that in 2006 Weitensteiner allegedly paid Clarke $2,000 in exchange for Clarke not revealing that he groomed and procured other Morning Star boys to have sex with Weitensteiner. Clarke told the attorney, Tim Kosnoff, that those encounters took place in a nearby farmhouse, owned by the ranch, where Weitensteiner lived in the late 1970s.
Under questioning by Kosnoff on Wednesday, Weitensteiner denied giving money to Clarke, but said he had presided at Clarke’s wedding. On Thursday, Weitensteiner denied that Clarke had procured boys for him. But the reason for those questions wasn’t revealed until later Thursday.
Morning Star’s attorney, Jim King, protested the admissibility of Clarke’s testimony and the potential new line of evidence, saying it was a violation of trial management and “a whole different trial.”
If Kosnoff wants to present such a case, “let him take it to the prosecutor,” King told O’Connor. “We don’t think Clarke has any place in this trial.”
Kosnoff told the judge “nothing could be more central to this case” than Clarke’s expected testimony. He said he can produce a witness who saw Weitensteiner hand Clarke an unsealed envelope containing the cash.
O’Connor ruled that Clarke would appear before her Monday morning and she would hear what he has to say, without the jury present, before ruling on the admissibility of his testimony.
In other testimony Thursday:
•Weitensteiner denied grooming Stephanie Miller for sexual contact. Miller, a transsexual who was born Carl Smith, is a former resident of the ranch who has filed a separate lawsuit against Morning Star claiming to have been sexually abused there.
•Under questioning by Kosnoff, Weitensteiner had difficulty recalling whether the ranch had a written policy regarding allegations of abuse.
•Putnam, 34, testified that he had been molested by Weitensteiner and a counselor, named Doyle Gillum, who is now deceased.
Putnam said Gillum came into his bedroom late at night and fondled him while he was under the influence of medication given to him by the ranch to control his bed-wetting.
He said he reported the incident to a supervisor, but that a week later Gillum again entered his room at night and began molesting him until Putnam slapped the counselor. Gillum “punched me so hard in the chest I couldn’t breathe,” Putnam said.
•He also testified that Weitensteiner molested him on the priest’s 27-foot powerboat on Lake Coeur d’Alene where the priest took him and another boy in the early 1980s.
While Putnam, who was 10 or 11 years old, was lying down seasick, he said, Weitensteiner pulled down his shorts and touched him until the boy kicked Weitensteiner in the face, jumped overboard and swam to another boat. The other boater returned Putnam to Weitensteiner, who said the boy was mentally ill.
That night Weitensteiner took the boys back to his home at St. Patrick’s Parish where he was pastor and again molested him, Putnam testified. Putnam recounted that Weitensteiner told him, “Nobody is ever going to believe you. Look who you are, an orphan. Nobody ever comes for you.”
•He said Weitensteiner later fondled him again when he forced the boy onto his lap behind the wheel of the priest’s car. Putnam was later taken from Morning Star Boys’ Ranch and placed in a foster home in Chattaroy.
•King declined to cross-exam either Weitensteiner or Putnam. Both will be called as witnesses when the defense presents its case, probably next week.