NEOSHO, Mo. | Prosecutors have dropped all charges against a southwest Missouri pastor accused of sexually abusing two underage female members of his congregation, ending a case that once involved six adults who led two rural Ozarks churches.
George Otis Johnston, 66, was charged in 2006 with 17 felony counts of child molestation and statutory sodomy. The Newton County prosecutor’s office said Tuesday it had dropped all charges and doesn’t plan to refile them because some witnesses had recanted or changed their earlier stories.
Johnston had pleaded not guilty. Neither he nor his attorney could be located for comment.
Charges against the other five defendants, all related by blood or marriage, were dropped last year.
All of the defendants were associated with the compound-style Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in McDonald County and Johnston’s offshoot Grandview Valley Baptist Church North, located near Granby in neighboring Newton County.
Johnston had been scheduled Tuesday for a case review hearing postponed from October, when prosecutors reported having trouble finding witnesses. But on Monday, the charges were dropped.
“After we did substantial discovery and reviewed all of the evidence and spoke with the victims, we just believe at this time, it was most appropriate to dismiss the pending charges,” Newton County assistant prosecutor Bill Dobbs told the Neosho Daily News.
“There has been some additional information come forward in which some of the witnesses we believed would offer corroborating testimony either recanted their story or did not confirm what we had been told,” Dobbs said. “Because of that, we believe prosecuting the case is not viable.”
The case drew wide attention for its allegations of girls being ceremonially molested to prepare them for “service to God.”
One of Johnston’s alleged victims said the abuse began when she was a child and continued until she left the church compound shortly after her 17th birthday. When she was older, the woman testified at a hearing, Johnston told her she would remain pure if she had sex with him because he had been ordained by God. She said she did not have sexual intercourse with him.
Her older sister said Johnston also molested her, with some of the alleged incidents happening while he was supposed to be tutoring her in algebra. The older sibling said she considered the pastor to be her “grandfather” because he was the community’s spiritual leader.
Dobbs said he has spoken with the two women and that, while they stand by their testimony, they agreed with the decision to drop the charges.
“This was a very complex case, and it continues to be a very complex case,” Dobbs said. “But you get to a point when it reaches a point of diminishing returns.”