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Monday, June 30, 2014

Etheredge testifies about book, past convictions during testimony

BY RICK PLUMLEE
The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA — Thomas Etheredge took the stand this morning to testify in his securities fraud trial.

Defense attorney Steve Joseph began by asking the Wild West World founder whether anything had happened to him while spending the past 10 months in the Sedgwick County Jail that would impair his recall.

Etheredge said he had developed a form of Parkinson's disease. He also said he was taken to the hospital with an aneurysm in his brain.

Joseph then asked Etheredge a series of basic questions, such as his age, number of brothers and sisters, names of his wife and children.

Most of Etheredge's early testimony dealt with his chapter in the book "Real Men, Real Faith," the things he wrote and what was changed in the editing process.

As has been testified earlier, he said he never used the phrase "Midas touch," but said in his draft that "most" of his business ventures during pre-college years made money.

Etheredge said there were a number of errors in the book, including the year that Bethany Trust was shut down by authorities. The book said U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission officials came to his Dallas office on April 1, 1984. He said the year was 1985.

Etheredge testified that he didn't recall signing off on the final draft of the book, which was published in 2004. The book's editor, former longtime Wichita pastor Gene Williams, testified earlier that he was sure Etheredge had given his OK on the final version.

"If you didn't see the final approval for the final draft, why did you distribute this book to so many people after you read it?" Joseph asked.

"Mr. Joseph, one must understand, the 6 1/2 pages under my name has to do with the message," Etheredge said. "I wasn't preparing a legal brief. I was approached by Pastor Williams to tell one thing and one thing only: How I came to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything I wrote has to do with that message.

"I never dreamed it would be under this kind of scrutiny. There are things I would have changed. This was about... how Jesus Christ changed my life."

"Did you do any research (before writing the chapter)?" Joseph asked.

"I didn't have to do research to tell how Jesus Christ changed my life," Etheredge said.

Etheredge also testified about the size of his cattle operation in Texas that he ran with his father. He also discussed the home that he purchased with his wife at the time, Debbie Taylor.

He said he bought the home for $175,000 in July 1981 and remodeled it. He said the home sat on five acres, where cows with calves were kept as part of the cattle operation.

Debbie Taylor had said that the ranch was nothing more than a "petting zoo."

She also testified that she thought money from the Bethany Trust was used to buy the home. Records were put into evidence today that showed the Bethany Trust didn't start up until 1984.

Etheredge's dealings with Bethany Trust are what led to his conviction in 1987 on nine securities fraud charges in Kansas.

He also talked about serving as a youth pastor or pastor at three small Baptist churches in Texas.

On his 1979 conviction for a writing a bad check, which resulted in jail time, he said he wrote a check for $450 for groceries. He said he was working as a welder at the time and had expected to be paid for a welding job to cover the check. But he said the contractor left town without paying him.

One of the issues in the trial has been testimony that Etheredge had multiple religious conversions. His ex-wife testified that he had one while in prison after the bad check conviction. She said he told her about the conversion as proof that he had changed his life.

But Etheredge said he did not have a conversion at that time.

"Debbie was partially right," Etheredge testified. "She also left out some things.

"I was ashamed. No one in my family had gone to prison. Here I was a businessman. How did I let this happen?

"I probably said ... 'If you just give me one more chance, I'll be new.' "

"Did you have a conversion experience as result of that check charge?" Joseph asked.

"Jail is a difficult place to be for anyone," Etheredge said. "Most men turn to the Bible. In the course of that year being in jail, I have no doubt I read the Bible. I had determined in my mind I would do better. But I did not, emphatically, did not accept Jesus Christ."

"In your heart?" Joseph asked

"That's correct," Etheredge said.

Etheredge's testimony is expected to last all day.

The state is expected to call some rebuttal witnesses on Thursday, including former Park City Mayor Dee Stuart.

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