January 26, 2010 in City

Witness says he was paid to keep quiet

Judge limits testimony of ex-ranch resident
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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A former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch told a Superior Court jury on Monday that he was repeatedly abused by the ranch’s director more than 30 years ago and that the director paid him money years later to keep it quiet.

Earlier, outside the presence of the jury, Michael A. Clarke, 44, denied ever grooming and procuring other boys for the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, an allegation raised last week in the first of 19 separate lawsuits against Morning Star.

Before Clarke was permitted to appear in front of the jury, Judge Kathleen O’Connor heard his entire testimony and ruled part of what he had to say admissible in the case of Kenneth Putnam, a former Morning Star resident who claims to have been abused by Weitensteiner and a ranch counselor a decade after Clarke was there.

O’Connor has allowed the testimony of five former residents to support the plaintiff’s case, which alleges that the ranch knew or should have known about pervasive and ongoing abuse and did nothing to stop it.

Morning Star’s attorney, Jim King, has opposed the testimony of all five, but particularly that of Clarke, an inmate serving time at Airway Heights Corrections Center on first-degree theft convictions.

Clarke said that he was sexually abused by Weitensteiner as many as 20 times on the ranch, during field trips, on the priest’s boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene and at Morning Star’s cabin on Newman Lake.

He described his acquaintance with Weitensteiner as “a sick relationship” in which he loved and respected the Catholic priest who sexually and physically abused him as a child.

“He was like a father to me and I was convinced whatever was happening to me was my own fault,” Clarke said Monday morning.

Later in life, Clarke said, Weitensteiner gave him money – $50 or $100 at a time – on numerous occasions, and the priest officiated at his wedding.

In 2006, after allegations against Morning Star came to light, Clarke said, Weitensteiner gave him $2,000 “in hush money” at a south Spokane restaurant. The transaction was allegedly witnessed by a friend, Robert Hunter, who is the boyfriend of Clarke’s niece.

Two or three days later, Clarke said, Weitensteiner accompanied attorney Matthew Daley, who then worked for King’s law firm, to Clarke’s home. Daley interviewed Clarke as a potential witness in upcoming litigation.

Clarke told Daley that he had not been abused or seen abuse while at the ranch. Clarke said Monday that he lied to Daley.

At the end of the interview, Clarke said, he was asked by Daley whether anyone had promised him anything for his testimony.

“I said, ‘Other than the $2,000?’ ” At which point the attorney looked at Weitensteiner and Weitensteiner shook Clarke off, Clarke recounted. “And I said, ‘Nobody promised me anything.’ ”

Daley, who appeared at Monday’s evidentiary hearing, denied there was any discussion of money at the interview.

On cross-examination by King, Clarke acknowledged he had been convicted of six counts of first-degree theft and two federal counterfeiting charges in the past 10 years and that he was under court order to pay $150,000 in restitution to victims.

Clarke also has filed a claim against Morning Star for damages associated with his sexual abuse, and in October 2008, apparently at his own lawyer’s direction, he passed a polygraph examination during which he said Weitensteiner had paid him the $2,000 to keep quiet.

Polygraph examinations are inadmissible under Washington law.

On Monday, O’Connor ruled part Clarke’s testimony admissible.

What the jury was not allowed to hear is that Clarke said he witnessed abuse by Weitensteiner of other boys at the ranch and that he heard “on the grapevine” about still more abuses, including that of Stephanie Miller, who testified last week.

When Putnam’s attorney, Tim Kosnoff, touched on this subject during questioning of Clarke, as well as the bankruptcy of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane over separate child abuse litigation, King moved for a mistrial. O’Connor denied the motion.

The defense attorney also accused Kosnoff of bringing Clarke’s testimony to the case in a “John Grisham-like” manner to poison the juror pool.

For his part, Kosnoff attacked King for not revealing last spring that Clarke – whose name originally appeared on a list of potential defense witnesses – had filed a claim against Morning Star.

Hunter and Daley are expected to testify today.

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