Friday, April 1, 2011

Minister bailed
Bail allowed for minister charged in rape, molestation of teen
Prosecutors ask that he be jailed without bail in early test of new state law

Levi Pulkkinen / seattlepi.comRoyce Shorter, a minister and music teacher accused of raping a 15-year-old girl, leaves King County Superior Court on Thursday, March 31, 2011.
In an early test of a change in state law that allows defendants facing life in prison to be held without bail, a King County judge opted to let a minister remain free until he faces allegations that he raped a teenage student at trial.

King County prosecutors had asked that Royce Clenton Shorter be held without bail under a change in state law that allows such an action against defendants facing the possibility of life without parole.

Shorter -- a convicted rapist who faces a life sentence under Washington's "two-strikes" law for violent sex offenders -- was the first King County defendant to face such a pre-trial restriction, approved by voters through a constitutional amendment last year.

The amendment followed the shooting of four Lakewood police officers by Maurice Clemmons, who was facing sex assault charges that may have seen him sentenced to life under the state's "three-strikes" law. But Clemmons had been allowed to bail out of jail shortly before the November 2009 killings.

Asked to lock up Shorter, 54, until a trial is held, King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler declined to do so Thursday. Instead, Kessler ordered that Shorter be placed on electronic detention at his Tacoma home and that he be jailed until that system can be set up.

Previously convicted of rape after having sex with a 12-year-old girl, Shorter stands accused of forcing himself on a 15-year-old piano student.

Shorter operates his own music studio -- 'N Time Music Productions -- and a Christian ministry, Royce Clinton Shorter Ministries. Appearing in court Thursday, Shorter was joined by what his attorney described as 30 supporters. Several had previously put up their homes as collateral to secure a bond for his release.

Speaking with detectives, the girl Shorter is alleged to have raped said Shorter started hitting on her during their lessons, then began kissing and groping her.

The girl said Shorter coerced her into having sex at least five times, beginning when she was 15, Seattle Police Detective Leslie Smith told the court.

"Shorter told her that if she loved him she 'wouldn't tell anybody,'" the detective told the court. "He told her that the last person he did it to told and he had to go to jail."

Shorter told the girl he would deny her allegations if she went to police, Smith added.

Smith noted that on several occasions the girl told Shorter she did not want to have sex or attempted to fight him off. Each time, the detective said, Shorter overcame the girl's defenses.

At the time of the alleged offenses, Shorter's studio was located in South Seattle. He later moved the business to Renton.

Shorter was convicted of child rape in 1985 after he was caught having sex with a 12-year-old girl he met through a choir group. He was also charged and acquitted of having molested a 15-year-old girl in 1993.

Addressing the court Thursday, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Julie Kays noted that Shorter is believed to have sexually assaulted at least six girls. Those alleged attacks occurred too long ago for charges to be filed due to the statute of limitations.

Kays said Shorter used his position of prominence in the community to gain access to the girls.

"All of the women have described a very text book operation by the defendant," Kays told Kessler.

Defense attorney Amy Muth noted that Shorter has not violated the conditions of his release and that there is no "sense of panic."

"He came into this court today with 30 of his supporters," Muth told the judge. "He's not going to run from this."

Prosecutors have now filed five counts against Shorter, including a second-degree rape charge alleging that he used force during a sex assault on the then-15-year-old girl. He is also charged with child molestation, third-degree rape and sexual misconduct with a minor, a charge that alleges he abused a position of authority.

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