A judge presiding over the case of one of six men accused of molesting young relatives at a western Missouri farm in the mid-1980s refused Monday to strike the lead prosecutor’s name from a list of potential witnesses, setting up the possibility that she could be called to testify in one of her own cases.
Lafayette County Prosecutor Kellie Wingate Campbell told circuit Judge Dennis Rolf that she and two of her assistants would face a conflict of interest if they were forced to testify during Jared Mohler’s trial about an October 2009 meeting they attended in which investigators discussed the case, including possible charges.
Mohler, 50, and five family members were arrested about two weeks after the meeting and charged with sexually abusing four young relatives over a period of years during the 1980s. All six pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. One of them died last month.
Mohler’s attorney, Tim Larimore, told the judge he has the right to call everyone who attended the meeting, including Campbell and her assistants.
But Campbell told Rolf that they merely observed the meeting and didn’t actively participate.
“It’s a preposterous notion that I would be called as a witness in my own case,” she told the court. “One meeting we sat in on does not suggest we investigated anything.”
The judge’s refusal to exempt Campbell from testifying raises the possibility that she’d hand the case over to a special prosecutor, which would add to the costs and time it would take to try the five defendants.
Campbell asked Larimore if he believes a special prosecutor would be necessary.
“The issue is not whether she does the case,” Larimore told the judge. “It’s can I call her as a witness. I didn’t ask for a special prosecutor or for them to remove themselves.”
Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri Law School professor, said he has heard of cases in which a prosecutor was called to the stand, but they’re rare and generally involved some malfeasance on the part of the prosecutor. Otherwise, he doesn’t see why such testimony would be required.
“It is, at the very least, extraordinarily unusual,” Bowman said. “It surprises me that the judge did not make a vigorous inquiry into why the defense attorney thought testimony from the prosecutor would be relevant and admissible,” he said.
With five trials in three counties involving at least four witnesses who say they were abused, the case is shaping up to be expensive. If a special prosecutor is deemed necessary in Jared Mohler’s case, the same would hold true for the other four defendants.
Defense attorneys contend it’s a repressed memories case, since the victims have said they didn’t remember until three years ago many details of the vile acts they claim occurred in the mid-1980s and continued for several years. As such, defense attorneys have said they plan to bring in expert witnesses who specialize in repressed memories, adding greatly to the trial expense.
The attorneys also claim there is no evidence to support the claims of abuse.
Also Monday, Larimore argued that several of the counts Jared Mohler faces were brought after the statutes of limitations had expired. Motions he filed seeking to have the case against his client dismissed will be dealt with in December during pretrial conferences.
Burrell Mohler Sr., his brother Darrel and four of Mohler Sr.’s sons were charged in November 2009 with dozens of counts of rape and other charges, after family members told investigators they were abused as children on a farm south of Bates City, 30 minutes east of Kansas City.
At least four young relatives of the Mohlers claim the men took turns raping them over several years. They said that some of the assaults took place after Burrell Sr. conducted ceremonies to “marry” the young girls to the older Mohler men so that they could have sex.
There also are claims that some of the girls were forced to have sex with a horse and a dog.
The accusers said the abuse started when they were very young and that they had repressed the memories for more than 20 years.
The eldest Mohler and his son, Burrell Mohler Jr., 55, also known as Ed, remain behind bars. Darrel Mohler was free on bond when he died last month at his home at the age of 74. The others are free on bond.
The trials for Burrell Sr., 79, David Mohler, 54, and Roland Mohler, 49, were transferred to Clay County, and Burrell Jr.’s trial was moved to Pettis County. Jared Mohler’s trial was kept in Lafayette County.