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Wednesday, September 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Testimony contests abuse claim

Morning Star suit profit-motivated, witness says

A former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch testified Monday that Kenneth Putnam was motivated by financial gain in suing the ranch for alleged abuse.

Spokane County Superior Court jurors heard from four former residents of the group home for troubled boys. All said they had never seen any inappropriate behavior by then-director the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner or counselor Doyle Gillum, now deceased.

Weitensteiner and Gillum are accused of sexually and physically abusing Putnam, whose lawsuit is the first of 19 civil cases claiming sexual or physical abuse at Morning Star. Weitensteiner denies the claims.

Jon D. Lyons, who was a resident of the ranch at the same time as Putnam in the late 1980s, said he ran into Putnam at a north Spokane shop in 2006, after the first lawsuits against Morning Star had been filed.

To make conversation, Lyons said, he asked Putnam if he could “believe what’s going on with Morning Star.”

Lyons said Putnam responded, “I’m going to get me some of that money.”

During cross-examination, Lyons said that “Putnam was not a person I wanted to spend some time with.” Lyons also said he sought Weitensteiner’s counsel about a death in the family many years after leaving the ranch.

Also on Monday, defense attorneys read from the sworn deposition of Jeffery Benz, a former Morning Star resident who was on Weitensteiner’s boat on Lake Coeur d’Alene in 1989, when Putnam said he was molested by the priest.

Benz said he could not recall a time when Putnam was alone with Weitensteiner and never saw or heard about the alleged abuse. However, he did recall Putnam jumping into the lake that day because he was upset about something.

Also testifying on Monday was Tricia S. Schmidt, of South Carolina, who was married to Gillum before his death in an auto-train collision in 1994.

Schmidt met Gillum while she was a volunteer at Morning Star in the summer of 1991. The two were married the following year before Gillum joined the Air Force and the couple moved to Omaha, Neb.

Schmidt testified that she never saw Gillum behave inappropriately, show a sexual interest in boys or seek psychological counseling during their brief time together.

Defense attorneys brought two other former ranch residents to the stand, including Hoa Le, who lived with Gillum for a short time after leaving Morning Star.

In addition, two former Morning Star staff members testified and defense attorneys read the sworn deposition of William Beasley, another former staff member who was Gillum’s best friend.

None of the witnesses could recall inappropriate touching or physical abuse while at Morning Star.

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