In the end, maybe the story of the Mohler family was just too much.
Too much to believe or too much to prove.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Lafayette County prosecutor dropped all charges in the incest case that more than two years ago shocked the world with bizarre stories of barnyard “weddings” of children to older relatives, rape, sodomy and secrets buried in fruit jars.
Those who had faced dozens of counts of sexual abuse were family patriarch Burrell Mohler Sr., then 79, of Independence, a sometimes preacher, and his four adult sons, Burrell Jr., David, Jared and Roland.
All were scheduled for trials later this year, including a June 4 date in Clay County for David Mohler.
“We’re just so glad it’s finally over,” said the Lamoni, Iowa, resident, the only one of the formerly accused to be reached Wednesday night. “The fact that these false charges were brought in the first place has forever changed our lives. Horrendous kinds of things were being said.
“But I never lost confidence,” he said by phone. “I assumed that we’d get this cleared up as to how they (his nieces and a nephew) might have come to believe these fantasies.”
Until the latest development, Lafayette County Prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell never publicly wavered, although apparently hampered by the lack of physical evidence. On Wednesday, she would only say of the sensational charges:
“Whether or not I believe the allegations is an independent question from whether or not I believe I can prove each and every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”
At least five of the six children of Burrell “Ed” Mohler Jr., had told investigators they were abused 20 years ago. As recently as last month they issued a statement to The Associated Press that they were ready to tell their stories in a “just and speedy trial.”
That will not happen now.
Hours before the announcement of the dropped charges, one alleged victim voiced frustration with Campbell.
“She has no intention of taking this to court,” the woman told the AP Wednesday around noon. “Every action has been in that direction.” The woman’s request to be dropped from the case was granted.
Campbell responded that it was her job to build a strong case and she had tried.
Janeal Matheson, public defender for Burrell Jr., was surprised at the dismissals.
“But if I have a prosecutor tell me they’re dropping charges, I’m saying thank you,” Matheson said. “I always thought my client would be found innocent at trial, but I’m glad it’s not going to go that far. Trials are always hard.”
David Mohler, 54, who said the experience had shaken his faith in the justice system, said he had wanted his day in court: “Because it has turned out this way, we don’t have the opportunity to show the evidence of why these were such ridiculous charges.”
An indication perhaps that the case was grinding to a halt was when Burrell Mohler Sr. was released Feb. 17 on his own recognizance after about 28 months behind bars. Then his 56-year-old son, Burrell, Jr. the last to be released, walked out of jail Monday after a Pettis County judge lowered bond to $5,000.
The dropping of charges came too late for the senior Mohler’s brother, Darrel, the last to be arrested. Free on bond, he died last fall in Florida where he lived.
For his son, Wednesday’s news came bittersweet. He was glad, but saddened, too, that his father will never know of his redemption.
“My dad had health problems, but I know this thing killed him,” Jeff Mohler said from his home in Florida. “When he was first arrested, I worried he wouldn’t live to see it through and that proved prophetic.”
As for the accusers, his cousins, he doesn’t know why they did what they did — “Ruining the lives of their father, grampa and uncles.”
Defense attorneys had increasingly argued that unfair trial delays were caused by the accusers’ reluctance to turn over deeply personal medical and mental health records, as ordered by a judge.
They had contended that if the horrible acts of abuse against them really happened, there would be medical records to prove it.
The alleged victims didn’t want to relinquish the records because of fears their private information would be made public. In their statement, the five women and their brother thanked the media “for respecting our privacy throughout this investigation as we have sought to protect our own families we believe that a just and speedy trial can be reached without further compromising our privacy and safety. Even now, it is our hope that this case will bring attention to crimes against children and will give other victims the courage they need to come forward.” The appointment late last year of a special discovery judge to review the records before they were turned over to attorneys seemed to ease those concerns.
Fairly new at her job when the case broke, the rural county prosecutor found herself besieged. She commented rarely about the Mohler charges, which because of limited resources in her own county, were moved elsewhere. Three went to Clay County.
After his arrest, David Mohler lost his job working in computers at Graceland University. He learned of the dismissal of the charges from his stepmother.
Roland Mohler, 49, of Bates City, Mo., had worked as a paramedic before his arrest; Jared Mohler, 51, was a Columbia, Mo., data base administrator. Burrell Jr. was a retired Independence fire fighter.
Three of the defendants had been members of the Community of Christ lay priesthood. They included Burrell Mohler Sr., who gave the Father’s Day sermon at his Bates City church in 2009.
The Mohlers were introduced to the world early on Nov. 11, 2009., as investigators began digging up the old family place in southwest Lafayette County, about 30 miles east of Kansas City. They were looking for glass jars that the victims said they’d buried there years ago. In the jars were pieces of paper describing their abuse, the sisters said.
Neither the jars nor the notes were found, nor was any evidence of a murder the victims said they committed after being ordered to do so by their father. The women said they followed a “fat man” from Independence Center to his house where they killed him with knives.
Nor did any evidence ever surface to support the story of a sex slave who lived in the crawl space beneath the house.
Search warrants showed detectives did find incest pornography magazines in the Independence home of Burrell Sr.
For Ron Gamble of Independence, a brother-in-law of Burrell Mohler Sr., the dismissal was as close to justice as the end could be.
“I’ve known Burrell since we were 1920 years old, and I’ve known all of his boys since the day they were born,” Gamble said. “I’ve never seen anything in their character or personality that would possibly indicate they were involved in the things they were accused of.
“I really found all of this so bizarre and hard to believe. These fellows never got to face their accuser. That’s not the way the system is supposed to work.”
“I felt they were innocent from the very beginning. How would you feel if your good name had been slandered in national and international news, your picture was on TV and in the newspaper, you’ve had terrible things said about you? How would you deal with that?”
Support by his family, church and community helped him through, said David Mohler, and “I knew I had God’s strength with meThrough the endless struggles, endless expenses we’ve encountered, we know ultimately who is in charge.
“We’ve got a a whole lot of recovery to do. Lost homes, lost jobs, lost careers, lost health, lost years,” he said. “And all because somebody wanted to believe it. That’s all it took.”