Saturday, January 22, 2011

Victims' mother supports abuser
Mother testifies against daughter in Jacksonville church sex-abuse case
Posted: January 21, 2011 - 5:31pm
By David Hunt
Victims of a sex scandal at a Jacksonville church that now has the church elder’s son and son-in-law in jail tried to come forward years ago but other congregation members — including two victims’ mother — silenced the allegations.

An emotional e-mail from one of the girls was among details that emerged Friday during a bail-reduction hearing for Paul Keith Groover, 56, and Darrell Vincent Moore, 45. Both men were arrested in December after police uncovered nearly a decade’s worth of allegations that they were sexually abusing juveniles at Greater Refuge Temple, an Apostolic church off Lem Turner Road.

In the July 28 e-mail, the girl asked her mother why she and other church members ignored the youths’ cries for help seven years ago as questions about Groover and Moore circulated.

“What exactly was done about my situation? How much of a say-so did you have in the way it was handled? And are you brain-washed?” the e-mail says.

The mother testified Friday, but she did so on behalf of the defense. She characterized what happened to that daughter as a misinterpreted hug. However, she has another daughter who told investigators she’d been raped at knife-point in the church’s video room. She said Moore threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone.

Allegations against Moore date back to at least 2000 and involve at least three girls who would have been in their teens.

Assistant State Attorney Jessica Villella questioned the woman as to how she could dismiss her own children’s allegations of sexual abuse. The woman responded, “You’re the one who’s been talking to her.” She declined to be interviewed outside the courtroom as other supporters crowded around her and a man waved off the media.

Because the Times-Union does not identify sex-crime victims, the paper is not naming the victims’ mother.

She was one of about two dozen people who came to support Groover, who is being held in lieu of $6 million bail, and Moore, who is being held without bail.

Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud did not rule on a reduction Friday, saying he wanted time to review evidence including a police-recorded phone call between Groover and a 21-year-old man who said he was 13 when Groover began to molest him in 2002.

Jacksonville detective Ervin Bartley, who built Groover’s case, described the young man’s hands shaking as he made the call.

“He showed a real strong respect to the defendant,” Bartley testified. “He was careful but he wanted answers.”

According to the arrest warrant, Groover criticized the victim during the call and told him that he didn’t need therapy, just prayer and time to forget.

Moore’s side of the case will be argued when the hearing continues in several weeks. The victims’ mother, who testified for Groover, called Greater Refuge Temple a close-knit family and said Groover even had a job waiting for him there when he’s out of jail.

Groover is the son of Bishop Gentle Groover Sr., a founding member of the church. Moore is the elder Groover’s son-in-law.

Attorney Jason Porter, who represents both defendants, presented the court with a Florida Department of Children and Families report that deemed the allegations unfounded. However, prosecutors said it took a whistle-blower to break through a hushed congregation and build the case on the victims’ testimony.

That whistle-blower revealed herself during Friday’s hearing to ask Soud to keep the bail amounts as high as possible.

Shirley Roberts said she was a member of Greater Refuge Temple until 12 years ago and has known the victims their entire lives. A retired probation officer, she said she felt it was her duty to step in when she started to learn what had happened.

“It was hard but I knew that if defendants are not brought to justice, victims will never heal,” Roberts said.

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