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Morning Star Boys’ Ranch

Summary

Fog and rain hang over the Morning Star Boys Ranch on Moran Prairie in this file photo.

Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, a longtime group home for troubled boys in southeast Spokane, became the target of numerous lawsuits by former residents alleging physical and sexual abuse. Ranch supporters and its former director say the ranch has been sullied by the abuse allegations, which they vehemently deny. They say the Catholic-based nonprofit organization has provided a safe environment for more than 1,300 boys with behavioral problems for more than 50 years.

The first of 19 sex abuse lawsuits against the ranch went to trial early in 2010, and on Feb. 12 that year, a jury handed Morning Star a victory, ruling against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam, who claims he was molested while a resident in 1988 and ’89. Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff’s law firm represents 14 other plaintiffs in suits against the boys’ ranch. Kosnoff said he intended to bring his strongest cases to trial first.

Defense attorney Jim King said he intends to defend Morning Star and its former director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, in every case that goes to trial. Attorneys for the ranch have shown no signs that they would consider a settlement, in contrast to the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, which in 2007 settled with 180 plaintiffs claiming to have been sexually abused by priests.

Allegations of abuse at the ranch surfaced in 2005, beginning with two former residents who accused ranch employees of sexual and physical abuse. More former wards of the ranch came forward with abuse allegations in the following months. The suits named Weitensteiner, defrocked priest and admitted pedophile Patrick O’Donnell, and several counselors.

The state continues to place boys in the care of the ranch.

Key people

  • Jim King

    Jim King, an attorney with Spokane law firm Evans, Craven & Lackie, is the lead defense attorney for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. He has litigated many medical malpractice, employment, professional negligence, worksite/premises liability and wrongful death cases in Eastern Washington and North Idaho in his career.

  • Timothy Kosnoff

    Timothy Kosnoff is a Seattle attorney who specializes in child sexual abuse cases. His firm represents Kenneth Putnam and 14 other plaintiffs in lawsuits against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. He has prevailed in abuse cases involving the Boy Scouts of America, several Catholic dioceses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Salvation Army, the Jesuits and other religious orders.

  • Kenneth Putnam

    Kenneth Putnam was sent to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch as a ward of the court in 1986. He has alleged that the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner molested him when he was 13 or 14 years old on the priest’s boat, in his car and at his home at St. Patrick’s Parish in northeast Spokane. Also, Putnam says counselor Doyle Gillum, now deceased, molested him in a boy’s bedroom at the ranch on two occasions. Putnam has a criminal history dating to 1988 that includes felony theft, burglary, assault and drug convictions.

  • Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner retired as director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in 2006. He began as a ranch counselor in the 1960s and was promoted to director of Morning Star after he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966. Weitensteiner had admitted to administering corporal punishment to ranch residents but has steadfastly denied more serious allegations of abuse of boys, including sexual abuse.

Latest updates in this topic


  • Jury clears Morning Star in first sex abuse lawsuit

    A unanimous jury ruled against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam on Friday, handing victory to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in the first of 19 sex abuse lawsuits to go to trial. Putnam, …


  • Witness says he was paid to keep quiet

    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 …


  • Lawyers lay out cases in Morning Star trial

    An attorney for a former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch accused the group home for troubled boys of turning a blind eye to longstanding sexual abuse there, while an …


  • Trial is years in the making

    Few court cases have so challenged the Spokane community’s faith in a revered institution as the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch lawsuits, the first of which goes to trial this week. …


  • Boys ranch moves assets before abuse trials’ start

    Morning Star Boys’ Ranch has moved the bulk of its assets, including securities and real estate worth millions of dollars, to a nonprofit foundation in advance of the first trial …


  • Ranch accused of abuse

    Fifteen-year-old Timothy Donald Everts swore he would never go back to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. He alleged that he was physically and sexually abused in the months he spent at …


  • The damage done

    In 1976, a teenager named Michael Phillip Smith lived in the home of a convicted child molester. The arrangement had the blessing of two juvenile probation officers and a judge, …


  • Files gone, histories erased

    It’s an open secret. Each year the state’s Department of Social and Health Services destroys thousands of private records about the children once in its care. Preserving the voluminous files …


  • Director retires from boys’ ranch

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the longtime director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch who found himself the subject of allegations of physical and sexual abuse last year, announced his retirement from …


  • 1960s records show Weitensteiner worked wonders

    The Catholic priest who was founding director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch apparently was forced out of his position in the 1960s after Spokane County’s health department objected to conditions …


  • 871 pages detail accusations

    Hundreds of pages of state documents detail multiple allegations of sexual abuse of boys at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in the past quarter-century and indicate that the assaults have continued …


  • Alumni step forward to defend boys’ ranch

    In the late 1960s, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch took in a young boy whose single mother was unable to care for him. Nearly four decades later, Terry Neal sits on …


  • Former boys’ ranch residents allege sex abuse

    Two former residents of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, including one who served as its ‘poster boy,’ sued the Spokane boys’ home on Wednesday, alleging that they were sexually abused by …


  • Disturbing connections emerge

    Three decades ago, while Spokane reveled in its changing skyline and the limelight of hosting a World’s Fair, the city frequently was described as a great place to raise a …