The child rape trial of 52-year old Angela (Von-Webb) Montgomery took place March 10-13, 2015 in the Rutherford County Circuit Courtroom of the Honorable Judge Royce Taylor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Six charges of “rape of a child” were filed against Montgomery in late 2012 after an eight-month-long investigation.
Two Murfreesboro detectives, Wayne Lawson and Tommy Roberts, heroes, who cared enough to listen to detailed statements from two of Montgomery’s children about the rapes and sexual assaults they suffered at their mother’s hands since childhood, and to do something about it.
Other than a battery of people directly connected with the court and the jury, Joe and I were sitting on one side of the courtroom with two of Montgomery’s adult children, a son and daughter, and their father, Paul Von-Webb, and stepmother, Susan. A third adult son has Down syndrome and was not present. In addition, two other people, relatives of Susan, were sitting nearby. All of us attended the entire trial.
On the other side of the courtroom, behind the accused, sat another Von-Webb adult son, who was part of the defense’s case and was only present in the courtroom when he testified and for the rest of the day. His testimony of “I do not remember” to every question asked him by the prosecutor was undone by records of his statements to the authorities and therapists from age 10 to 13-years-old about both the abuse done to him and his siblings.
Angela Montgomery’s mother came to her daughter’s trial from Raleigh, North Carolina. Montgomery’s present husband of four years, Pat, came from Portland, Oregon, where they lived. Also attending was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a friend of Montgomery’s from the Murfreesboro area. A few other unidentified people sat in the spectator section, including a reporter from a local newspaper.
I became aware of Angela Montgomery in October 2012 during a phone conversation with Susan Von-Webb. Montgomery was a Jehovah’s Witness accused of child rape and facing several pending felony warrants. Susan explained that she became step-mother to the four children involved in the case when she married their father, Paul, in 1999. Susan then filled in the details and said there was to be a meeting of the grand jury in November.
Susan explained that she was never a Jehovah’s Witness. but her husband, Paul Von-Webb, and his former wife, Angela (they married in 1983), both had Jehovah’s Witness backgrounds. At a time when Paul had serious financial problems, a Witness acquaintance, Carlos, told Paul about his beliefs, which interested this exhausted and worried man. Paul introduced the religion to his wife, and, subsequently, they were baptized in late 1992 and attended the Glasgow, Kentucky Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Angela became nothing less than fanatical about her new-found faith, but Paul did not. After researching the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he disassociated himself in 1996. While there were also other reasons, the Witness religion caused serious problems between them leading to divorce in 1997. Paul and Angela had four children: Alan was born in 1989, Michael in 1991, Jonathan in 1993, and Anna in 1996.
Susan related how she learned about me through my media appearances when I was exposing the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders. During that phone call I heard Susan share a story of child abuse unlike any I had ever heard before. I was determined to help Susan and Paul in any way possible. They later became close friends. We were there for them with support and advice through many discouraging months of ups and downs because “the wheels of justice grind slowly” – sometimes not at all.
During that time, details began to emerge to help us understand what the Von-Webb’s had been through trying to get full custody of the children. After Paul and Susan learned from the children what their mother was doing to them, they went to the authorities – and then to the courts – to try to protect them.
In fact, Paul and Susan repeatedly notified the Department of Children’s Services in Tennessee. They were shocked that no one believed the children’s accounts, especially those from the boys. The authorities reasoned that “when adult women engage in sexual acts with adolescent boys, others do not perceive this activity as abuse but rather a fortunate rite of passage, although the law sees it otherwise.” [Mayo Clin Proc. 2007;82(4):457-471]
In 2001, the Von-Webb’s spoke to the elders at the Kingdom Hall in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to warn them that Angela was a risk to children. The elders response was that Angela “was being reproved for something else” and that’s all they could do.
Later we learned that while Angela continued to live in Murfreesboro during 1997-2002, she had an affair with “Carlos” the Bible instructor. Both were disfellowshipped in 2000 and reinstated in 2001.
At the end of 2002, Angela took two of the kids and moved to Raleigh, NC, where her mother was living. The molestations continued. (At the trial, Alan, the oldest son, graphically described multiple events that occurred between 1999 and 2003.)
After Angela moved to Raleigh in 2002, the Von-Webb’s sent letters about Angela to elders in the congregation where she attended. They also sent a letter to the Watchtower’s headquarters in New York and received no responses from either location. It seemed that none of the elders in charge cared about their children – or any of the children in the Kingdom Hall – even though there was evidence that Angela had molested babies belonging to Jehovah’s Witnesses when she was babysitting them.
In 2003, the Von-Webbs regained the two children Angela had taken to Raleigh. They already had legal custody of Alan and Michael. The court ordered that all the children were to have a forensic evaluation by a forensic psychologist through therapy. After those evaluations were completed, the psychologist reported his findings to the court. Only after she was threatened with jail, Angela finally agreed to legally give up her children in September 2003. Initially, she was only allowed to see the children twice a year during two hours of supervised therapy by the forensic psychologist at his office. That order was later revised to allow her three hours per visit.
These orders were in place despite the denials made by this charismatic and charming mother of four. As a Jehovah’s Witness she had learned in the Theocratic Ministry School how to overcome any criticism or accusation put before her. Being a well-trained and articulate Jehovah’s Witness allowed her to get away with what she had inflicted upon her children. But for the moment, she had been stopped.
To counter the effects of all the horror, the Von-Webb’s spent tens of thousands of dollars on therapy, psychiatric care, lawyers, and experts who interviewed the children and heard their graphic stories. Yet none of them, who had the power to act, had the good sense to see through Angela’s denials and actually do something to legally protect the children. This situation continued until 2004 when their abusive mother’s visitation rights were removed.
In 2005, Angela was living in Portland, Oregon. She had been invited to move out there by an elder living in Smyrna, Tennessee (who, by the way, knew of the accusations of child abuse against her made by the Von-Webbs going back to 2001). Angela attended meetings at the Gresham, Oregon, Kingdom Hall. (This was the same Kingdom Hall – although a different congregation – where Whitney Heichel, 21, attended meetings before she was murdered by a fellow Jehovah’s Witness in 2013. [Link to news article.] )
Finally, in 2012, two of the children (one who was by then an adult) went to the Murfreesboro, Tennessee Police Department and pressed charges against their mother (who was still living in Portland, Oregon). Why did they do it?
They did it because they were worried that Angela was still raping children. This was after they heard what she did to one youngster in Kentucky. No one believed him except his parents and a long-time counselor – but not the authorities!
One of the detectives assigned to the case, Wayne Lawson, phoned two elders in the Gresham, Oregon congregation to ask what they knew about Angela. One of them was the elder who had invited Angela to move to that area. Both elders denied knowing anything about Angela’s proclivities for molesting children. Shortly after that conversation, Detective Lawson received an intimidating phone call from Anthony Montoya, a Watchtower attorney in New York, who tried to pressure the detective to cease and desist from calling the Gresham elders.
Angela had to be stopped. Finally, on March 10, 2015, in Rutherford County, Tennessee the “child rape” trial began. It was State [of Tennessee] v. Angela Montgomery, Case No. 69052. The following is a brief outline from some of the testimony we heard during the trial by those involved.
Angela’s court-appointed defense attorney’s opening remarks surprised us when he told the jury that Angela Montgomery and her first husband, Paul Von-Webb became Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1992 as if this was something special. He went on to say Paul left the religion, and by 1996, they were fighting over everything leading to separation in 1996. In 2003 they are arguing over custody of the children. In 2005 Angela was living on the West Coast and after moving there she never saw her oldest son, Alan, again.
The jury was excused for 30 minutes by the judge for an evidentiary hearing. Prosecutor tells judge about acts of violence by defendant. Judge then permitted Alan to answer questions from prosecutor and defense attorney about violence and abuse from 1999-2002.
Alan testified that his mother used a wooden spoon or switch to beat him and his siblings if they didn’t cooperate with their mother’s directions. The switch left marks; she was especially hard on his sister.
Alan was last punished when he was 13. Angela used physical punishment even when he did nothing to deserve it. During 2000 to 2004, he spoke to DCS officials a number of times. He said he was worried about who he was going to live with permanently. The children spent every other weekend and half the summer and half Christmas vacation with Angela and they were always harshly spanked. Alan testified to the corporal punishment and the sex abuse.
Judge agrees and allows proof of all “Bad Acts.”
Alan answers questions about his family, background and present job, etc. After 2003, he and his brother Michael lived with their father and stepmother but every other weekend they spent with Angela. Anna and Johnny lived with her fulltime.
Asked to describe the sophisticated sexual activity at Angela’s home, not just inappropriate sexual fondling and advances that he endured since childhood, he said that around the year 2000, he was doing his homework on the kitchen table during one weekend when he was at his mother’s home. Angela saw a note on the table from the school asking for the signature of a parent or parents to consent for their child to begin to learn about sex in science class. She could not sign the note because she didn’t have full custody of Alan. However, Alan said his dad agreed to give permission. It was then that Angela told him that mother’s should teach their children about sex, not schools.
Later in the evening, after the other kids went to bed, she began to introduce Alan to sex. The details we heard were graphic in detail and extremely upsetting to listen to. Alan said he protested and tried to get away from her every time it happened which was whenever he had to stay at her home. The sex education was progressive and in time, developed into rape.
When Angela would say that “mothers who love their children teach them sex,” he bought into it because he didn’t know any better. The first time it happened, he had a hard time coping. But since he had a sheltered upbringing and didn’t know anything about sex, he waited until she finished whatever she wanted to do to him because that’s the way it was. He said he felt weird but knew his mom always got what she wanted.
At his father’s home, in time, the family noticed that Alan acted differently. He was very quiet. Eventually, Alan asked a friend at school about mother’s introducing sex to their sons the way Angela was doing. His friend said, “Mother’s don’t do that.” When he found this out, he didn’t know what to do.
Later, his stepmother, Susan, asked him some probing questions and he told her some of what was happening. She contacted DCS, just the first of such calls. All in all, three caseworkers heard his story, but they didn’t react in any way special. No questions were asked. The family never heard from any of the three again. Susan talked to other people in authority about the situation who then interviewed Angela. Alan always heard the same thing from any investigators, “I met your mom and she’s nice and I don’t think she could do these things.” Finally, he just didn’t want to talk about it anymore with anyone. He was embarrassed and also didn’t want to see his mother go to jail. This went on until 2003 when a judge finally removed Angela’s visitation rights after the Von Webb’s found someone in authority to listen to them about the sexual abuse which the children were enduring.
When Alan was cross-examined by the defense attorney, he stuck to his story and added more details in proof.
Angela testified in her own behalf and basically said that her ex-husband was at fault. He was angry because she remained one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and he was responsible for planting the accusations against her in Alan’s mind. When cross-examined by the prosecution, she calmly and eloquently denied all charges of sexual abuse that she purportedly did to her children. However, the prosecutor was able to show holes in her story.
Alan’s brother, Michael, testified and was less than truthful. However, his denials were disproved when the jury heard what the prosecutor read from the notes of one of Michael’s counselors about the abuse he endured at 10 years old. Apparently, Michael’s attempts to deny what his mother did to him was because he did not want her to go to prison.
On March 13, 2015, Angela Montgomery was found guilty as charged by a jury of tearful adults on six counts of child rape. What a relief. And for the Von-Webb’s, after years of trying to get justice and to protect other children from Angela, the icing on the cake came on May 6, 2015. At the sentencing hearing that day a kind and thoughtful judge, in front of TV reporters and camera crews from the Nashville affiliates of ABC and NBC, sentenced Angela Montgomery to forty years in prison. She will have to serve every day of her sentence because that’s Tennessee law in cases of child rape.
The prosecutor, Hugh Ammerman, stated in his closing arguments the words, “This case is about ten years of well-documented system failure” when talking about the Department of Children Services (DCS) inability to protect children. Hugh also said to the jury about DCS, “I want to remind you that DCS is not known to be the most reliable agency in the world.” These words were a serious indictment of a government agency that was supposed to protect children.
Now, due to two detectives, who believed the accusations of sexual abuse made by two young adults against their mother, no one has to worry that Angela Montgomery, a pedophile, will ever be free to hurt children again.