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Wednesday, April 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Morning Star Boys’ Ranch


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

  • 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 …

  • Morning Star spokeswoman quits

    The spokeswoman for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, who became the public face of the Spokane boys’ home during a turbulent summer, resigned this week. In a letter to Morning Star …

  • 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 …

  • Closure of boys’ ranch urged

    A former Morning Star Boys’ Ranch resident who alleges he was sexually abused there called for its closure at a news conference Thursday.

  • 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 …

  • Boys’ ranch says priest accused of molestation wasn’t on payroll

    A review of tax records found no evidence that a Catholic priest accused of molesting dozens of boys in Spokane was ever paid to work at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, …

  • 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 …

  • News doesn’t reflect typical ranch experience

    A s one of the boys who lived at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch from 1968-70, I feel it is important to give some perspective about the ranch. My story is …

  • Boys’ ranch head to take leave

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the revered director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, announced Thursday he will take a temporary leave of absence amid recently publicized allegations of past physical abuse. …

  • Priest: Allegations ‘misleading’

    The last few weeks have been a painful time for the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, a Roman Catholic priest and the longtime director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. Accused of physically …

  • Group urges boys’ ranch head to resign

    A Spokane support group for victims of clergy abuse will ask today for the resignation of a 73-year-old Catholic priest who allegedly physically assaulted boys at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch.

  • Ex-boys’ ranch staffers urged end to beatings

    Two former counselors say they urged the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner to end physical discipline at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in the 1970s. “We made waves, but his word was the …

  • More allege beatings at boys ranch

    Don Norby remembers arriving late for a meal during a Priest Lake camping trip with other boys from Morning Star Boys Ranch in the early 1970s. As the 12-year-old went …

  • West, Hahn could have taken boys from ranch, official says

    An official for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch conceded last week that Jim West and a fellow sheriff’s deputy who killed himself amid allegations of child molestation could have removed boys …

  • Former counselor could still be charged

    They called him their big brother. He bought them matching shirts and toys their mother couldn’t afford. He worked for a candy company in Spokane and drove a pristine, blue …

  • Ranch paid man to settle abuse suit

    Morning Star Boys’ Ranch paid one of its former residents an undisclosed amount of money last fall to settle a lawsuit involving sexual abuse allegations from the 1990s. The alleged …

  • Report false, ranch director says

    The longtime director of Morning Star Boys Ranch on wednesday denied a report that Mayor Jim West and a former sheriff’s deputy “checked out” boys for day outings and camping …