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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.

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Summary

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.

Latest updates in this topic

Boys’ ranch accuser already had settlement

Although a jury last month rejected Kenneth Putnam’s sex abuse allegations against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane had already paid Putnam a settlement worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The award to Putman is among 10 such settlements totaling more than $3 million – ranging from $100,000 to $750,000 – that have been paid through the diocese bankruptcy to men who continue to press lawsuits against Morning Star, its former director the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, and other priests and employees associated with the home for troubled boys.

Read the rest of Kevin Graman and John Stucke’s story here.

2 jurors dismissed from Boys’ Ranch case

Two jurors will be removed from deliberations in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch sexual abuse case because of misconduct.

The two discussed the case outside of deliberations, which led Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor to dismiss them this morning. Two alternate jurors will be brought in.

The alternates were present for the lengthy trial but have not been taking part in deliberations, which began Tuesday.

Read coverage of the trial here.

Ranch trial could go to jury Tuesday

Closing arguments are expected tomorrow in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch sex abuse trial.

The lengthy trial is the first of more than a dozen cases that could go to trial in Spokane County Superior Court.

On Thursday, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner (pictured above) said that he would sometimes get angry during his 52-year career at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, but that he “never, never” sexually abused the boys in his care.

“I was a parent, and I did things that parents do,” said Morning Star’s former director, adding that included losing his temper at times.

Read Kevin Graman’s story: Former ranch director denies abuse allegations

Full coverage here.

Big day in Boys’ Ranch abuse trial

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 later, according to a motion today in the first sex-abuse trial against the ranch.

The dramatic revelation in the sex-abuse lawsuit by Kenneth Putnam came outside the presence of the Superior Court jury Thursday morning when Judge Kathleen O’Connor demanded to know why Putnam’s attorney had called an unscheduled witness three weeks into proceedings.

Read the rest of Kevin Graman’s story here.

On Wednesday, the jury was told that 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 himself into Morning Star Boys Ranch.

Read that story  here.

O’Donnell is pictured left testifying at a trial in Seattle in May. (Read more on O’Donnell: Pedophile priest free to roam )

Boys’ ranch trial enters day 2

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.

Those were the strategies outlined by legal adversaries in the first of 19 lawsuits against the facility in opening remarks to jurors Tuesday in Spokane County Superior Court.

Read the rest of Kevin Graman’s story here.

Slight delay in Morning Star Boy’s Ranch trial

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 to hear it reviews pretrial motions in the case, Kevin Graman reports.

Trial of the civil case, brought by Kenneth Putnam, will begin Tuesday in Judge Kathleen O’Connor’s courtroom.

Putnam (pictured above in 2005) is one of 19 former residents accusing the ranch of allowing physical and sexual abuse by ranch employees. It is expected that O’Connor will rule on several motions this week, as well as begin to seat a jury in the case.

“The history of Morning Star is going to be presented in this trial,” as generations of abuse victims “finally get their day in court,” Timothy Kosnoff, the attorney whose Seattle firm is representing Putnam and 14 other plaintiffs, said in an article you can read here.