Local News Spotlight

Prosecutor: Mohler case stumped judges and attorneys

Updated: 2012-03-09T15:35:39Z

By MARK MORRIS, JUDY L. THOMAS and LAURA BAUER

The Kansas City Star

— LEXINGTON, Mo. — Alleged victims claimed they had been sexually abused for years by members of a Lafayette County family, but court records show their concern over medical privacy mired the horrific case in court.

Finally this week, the prosecutor in the case dismissed all charges against five members of the Mohler family.

In an interview Thursday, Lafayette County Prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell said her decision wasn’t based on a single setback but on a variety of issues dealing with multiple defendants and victims of decades-old crimes.

“A case of this magnitude and of this complexity did present issues that stumped even the most seasoned attorneys and judges that looked at them,” Campbell said.

The single greatest issue, however, was balancing the alleged victims’ privacy rights with the rights of the defendants to have all the information crucial to their case.

Lawyers who have represented the victims say their clients cooperated fully and completely.

But a judge hearing the cases against some members of the Mohler family recently warned Campbell that he would strike the testimony of witnesses, including victims, if they refused to turn over medical records to her and to defense lawyers.

Clay County Circuit Judge Larry Harman found Campbell blameless in the dispute, noting that she had “acted diligently” in trying to provide information to defense lawyers.

“Based upon statements of counsel for the state and the defense, this court finds that the discovery delays have virtually all been caused by the reluctance, or refusal, of the endorsed state witnesses to comply with requests and orders,” Harman wrote.

The judge ordered that all of the documents — including the victims’ medical, counseling and pharmacy records — be turned over by March 21.

The case never made it that far.

Campbell announced Wednesday that she had dropped all charges in the incest case that drew world-wide attention, with skin-crawling tales of “weddings” of children to older relatives, rape, sodomy and anguished recollections buried in fruit jars that never were found.

In November 2009, authorities filed charges against Burrell Mohler Sr., his four sons, Burrell Mohler Jr., David Mohler, Jared Mohler and Roland Mohler, alleging they had sexually assaulted young girls in the family decades ago at a farm in Lafayette County.

A sixth defendant, Darrel Mohler, a Florida resident and Burrell Sr.’s brother, died last fall.

A civil attorney representing the five alleged victims disputed the contention that her clients had been uncooperative.

Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City lawyer who has represented the purported victims since December, said they have complied with all requests for documents and provided more items as recently as this week.

“They have turned over all of their journals, all of their medical records, all of their pharmaceutical records, they’ve signed authorizations (to disclose medical information),” she said.

Attorneys for the Mohlers said Thursday that the sexual-abuse allegations were outrageous and false.

Also Thursday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced that she had declined to seek criminal cases against family members who had homes in Independence.

“As far as we are aware, there’s not enough evidence on which to proceed with a case,” Baker said in a written statement. “Our office has worked cooperatively with law enforcement and we have no plans at this time to file a charge.”

In an interview Thursday, Campbell declined to be specific about why she opted to drop the charges before the judge’s deadline. However, she said it was an extraordinarily difficult case that never quite gelled after she filed the initial charges.

“You take those multiple defendants, multiple victims and the length of time between the alleged abuse and its disclosure and you have serious issues on your hands,” she said.

Attorney George B. Jones, representing David Mohler, laid out his frustration in trying to obtain information from purported victims in a January motion filed in Clay County.

Without records documenting the alleged victims’ physical and mental injuries, his client’s constitutional rights could not be protected.

“This case cannot be tried until the defense receives all of the journals, the medical records, the mental health, counseling, therapy and related records of the accusers,” Jones wrote.

Kim Benjamin, attorney for Burrell Mohler Sr., said Thursday that getting the alleged victims’ information had been extraordinarily difficult.

“Law enforcement did get hold of a few things in the beginning, but by no means everything,” she said. “We kept digging and asking for more and we were getting stonewalled at every turn.”

Kansas City Attorney Sean Pickett, who represented the alleged victims from March 2011 into the fall, said they were disappointed with Campbell’s decision but they knew it was a possibility.

It’s not fair, he said, to paint them as uncooperative. They just wanted to make sure there were orders in place beforehand to protect their privacy.

“There were certain aspects to their lives that the defense attorneys don’t have a right to, and that’s what I was hired to protect,” Pickett said. “They’ve been very cooperative with the prosecutor’s office.”

Late last year, a special judge was appointed to review sensitive records before they were turned over.

Some information, like names of childhood doctors from years ago, his clients couldn’t remember, Pickett said.

“All critical records and doctors were identified,” he said. “They were fighting for their personal rights of privacy of their names and medical records that should be protected.”

Campbell said in an August 2011 court filing that the purported victims “were stunned by the expansive media and internet coverage in this case and …they have serious concerns about their privacy.”

In Thursday’s interview, Campbell was not critical of the alleged victims.

“I wish the victims the best in everything,” Campbell said.

Staff writer Glenn E. Rice contributed to this report.

To contact Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or email mmorris@kcstar.com.

To contact Judy Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or email jthomas@kcstar.com.

To contact Laura Bauer, call 816-234-4944 or email lbauer@kcstar.com.

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