It’s a rare week when a new case of child abuse or rape among Jehovah’s Witnesses isn’t reported somewhere in North America. That’s in spite of new court cases and successful convictions every few months that are destroying Watchtower’s reputation. The following report comes from a small town in Illinois (USA) where there was limited coverage about just such a case. But it includes a surprising and horrific twist that proves Watchtower leaders at all levels still refuse to take decisive action to protect children.
The Northwest Herald: “Crystal Lake man guilty of more than a decade of sex abuse”
KATIE SMITH October 23rd, 2019: A jury on Wednesday convicted a Crystal Lake Man of sexually assaulting and abusing a young female relative for more than 13 years – despite leaders at the man’s church being aware of the allegations for more than a decade.
Arturo Hernandez-Pedraza has been in custody since October 20, 2018, at the McHenry County Jail. A jury returned about 12:30 PM Wednesday with guilty verdicts on all 14 aggravated criminal sexual abuse, predatory criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual abuse, sexual relations within families and domestic battery charges filed against him. He is scheduled for sentencing at 1:30 PM on December 19.
Hernandez-Pedraza’s attorneys, McHenry County [Ilinois] Assistant Public Defenders Angelo Mourelatos and Richard Behof said after court Wednesday, that the 42-year-old father maintains his innocence.
“We are disappointed with the verdict,” Mourelatos said, adding that he and Behof plan to file an appeal.
The allegations lodged against Hernandez-Pedraza date back as far as 2005. Over the course of more than a decade, Hernandez-Pedraza continued to rape, sexually assault and abuse the girl, prosecutors said.
On Tuesday, an elder from Hernandez-Pedraza’s congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was called to testify about alleged admissions Hernandez-Pedraza made in reference to the sexual abuse and assault claims.
A Kingdom Hall elder, Michael Penkava, tried to invoke his right as a religious leader to not testify against Hernandez-Pedraza. Ultimately, he was required to answer questions about actions the congregation took after learning about the reports of sexual abuse.
Penkava testified that he learned about the accusations in July 2006, prosecutors said. Shortly after, church leaders warned parishioners not to leave their children alone with Hernandez-Pedraza. The accusations were not reported until 2018, however, when the victim told church elders the abuse hadn’t stopped, prosecutors said.
The most serious charge against Hernandez-Pedraza – “predatory criminal sexual assault of a child” – could land him in prison for as many as 30 years.
Note: The Northwest Herald is a daily tabloid newspaper published in Crystal Lake, Illinois. The paper has a circulation of about 21,500 with a coverage area of McHenry County and northern Kane County in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.