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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


  • Putnam often combative, witness says

    A former Morning Star Boys’ Ranch employee and close friend of a counselor accused of abusing a former ranch resident testified Thursday that he never saw inappropriate conduct. Ray Roberts, …


  • Witness says ranch knew of abuser

    Attorneys for a former Morning Star Boys’ Ranch resident rested their civil case in Spokane County Superior Court on Wednesday after bringing to the stand an 84-year-old woman who testified …


  • Ranch’s standard of care criticized

    For decades, Morning Star Boys’ Ranch was run entirely by its director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, without oversight by the board of directors, whose members were concerned more about property …


  • 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 …


  • Sex procurement alleged in boys’ ranch trial

    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 …


  • 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 him money to keep it quiet years …


  • Boys ranch ex-director testifies

    Patrick O’Donnell – whose infamy as the abuser of as many as 66 children was inextricably linked to the scandal that bankrupted the Catholic Diocese of Spokane – also insinuated …


  • Pedophile priest involvement at Morning Star detailed in court

    Patrick O’Donnell – whose infamy as the abuser of as many as 66 children was inextricably linked to the scandal that bankrupted the Catholic Diocese of Spokane – also insinuated …


  • Boys ranch abuse trial opens

    Either Morning Star Boys’ Ranch management turned a blind eye to decades of child sexual abuse or it is being persecuted by discreditable former residents looking to make a buck. …


  • 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 …


  • Abuse trial witness list grows

    Attorneys for a man alleging he was abused at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch scored a partial victory Wednesday when a judge ruled four other alleged victims can testify in the …


  • Region in brief: Pretrial motions heard in boys ranch abuse case

    A Spokane County Superior Court judge heard pretrial motions on Tuesday in a lawsuit against Morning Star Boys Ranch by a former resident who claims he was sexually abused by …


  • Start of boys ranch abuse trial delayed

    The trial in the first of numerous lawsuits alleging abuse of a former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch was delayed today while the Spokane County Superior Court judge assigned …


  • 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. …


  • Sports complex decision expected by month’s end

    Baseball may be America’s pastime, but contentious debate could be a close second. Supporters and opponents of a south Spokane sports complex filled the assembly room in the Spokane County …


  • Lawsuit filed over boys ranch’s asset transfer

    Attorneys for 15 former residents of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch who claim to have been sexually abused while at the south Spokane facility filed a separate lawsuit on Wednesday over …


  • 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 …


  • Judge splits up Morning Star lawsuits

    Morning Star Boys’ Ranch may have to defend itself in 18 separate physical- and sex-abuse trials next year after a judge split lawsuits into individual cases. The ranch wanted the …


  • 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 …


  • Proposed ballfields ill-conceived, unsafe

    As president of the Glenrose Community Association, I would like to clarify our community’s widespread opposition to the South Side Little League sports complex proposed in Glenrose. Residents here are …


  • Ballpark is a field of contention

    There’s a bit of a stalemate on the Glenrose Prairie. The Spokane South Hill Little League would like to build a baseball complex on land at 37th Avenue and Glenrose …


  • Glenrose discusses sports complex

    They didn’t even get three strikes before they were out. At a special Glenrose Community Association meeting Jan.28, Brian Gosline and Bret Bonham, who are both with Spokane Southside Little …


  • Morning Star ranch hit with new lawsuit

    Another man sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in Spokane on Friday, alleging he was physically, sexually and psychologically abused during the two years he lived at the home for troubled …


  • More file suit against Morning Star

    Three more men sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch on Friday, including two men who say the ranch’s former director sexually abused them in the 1960s and 1980s. The third man …


  • Morning Star must release files

    The Washington Supreme Court has declined to review a lower court’s decision that Morning Star Boys’ Ranch must release more than 1,000 personal files to attorneys for seven men who …


  • Four more men allege abuse at boys’ ranch

    Four more men sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch on Monday, including two men who allege that the ranch’s revered director sexually abused them in the 1970s and ‘80s. Two of …


  • Morning Star told to release boys’ records

    A Spokane County Superior Court judge has ordered Morning Star Boys’ Ranch to release more than 1,000 personal files of former residents to attorneys who represent seven men who say …


  • 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 …


  • Two allege abuse at boys ranch

    Two men have sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch for alleged physical abuse at the group home in the 1970s, according to documents filed in Spokane County Superior Court. The men, …


  • Six more men join Morning Star suit

    Six more men sued Morning Star Boys’ Ranch on Friday, including two who accuse the ranch’s longtime director of sexual abuse. The two men allege in documents filed in Spokane …