November 10, 2012

Wichitan convicted of 1990s sex crimes was in secret Boy Scout files

It was bad enough, a mother says, that Gerald V. Ashworth used his access as a Sunday school teacher and church volunteer to rape her mentally disabled daughter and fondle another disabled woman in 1993.

It was bad enough, a mother says, that Gerald V. Ashworth used his access as a Sunday school teacher and church volunteer to rape her mentally disabled daughter and fondle another disabled woman in 1993.

And it was bad enough, she says, that he committed those crimes after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 6-year-old in 1992.

But she didn’t know until recently that the Boy Scouts of America put Ashworth in its confidential “perversion files” in 1968 after he had been Scoutmaster of Troop 605 in Wichita.

Twenty-five years before her daughter became one of his victims, the Boys Scouts decided it couldn’t trust him around boys, according to documents published recently. The documents come from hundreds of long-secret files the Boy Scouts kept on Scout leaders across the nation who became disqualified from volunteer roles after they came under suspicion. Ashworth is one of 14 men in Kansas, and one of six living in Wichita, who were in the files.

The mother said she wonders whether her daughter might not have been a victim if the file had been public.

The mother, who is not being named to protect her daughter’s identity, said, “It made me sick to my stomach” to learn that Ashworth had been a Scoutmaster. The men in her daughter’s family worked their way to Eagle Scout, the highest rank a Boy Scout can achieve.

It has been 19 years since Ashworth drove her daughter from Central Community Church to a vacant home and raped her in the sawdust. Her daughter, now almost 50, still has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old. After nearly two decades, her daughter still gets hysterical when she goes under an overpass near the church on West Maple because it brings back memories of the crime, her mother said.

Her daughter no longer goes to the church and now always travels with a trusted adult.

The mother said her daughter “still has nightmares about it. She understands she was hurt, but she doesn’t know why. She thought he was a friend, and he hurt her.”

Sedgwick County District Court Judge Richard Ballinger, who oversaw Ashworth’s trial and sentenced him in 1994 to more than 25 years for the crimes against the disabled women, also just recently learned that Ashworth was in the Boy Scout files.

“It saddens me even more than I was when I handled the case,” Ballinger said of the revelation.

People who prey on children and other vulnerable people “know where to hide, and they know where their victims are,” Ballinger said.

Ballinger said he hopes that organizations that pedophiles use to find victims have become more aware of warning signs and more protective, because those who prey “know how to become invisible in these organizations, they know … how to act.”

Ashworth, now 74, remains in prison for the 1990s crimes. His earliest possible release would be on March 26, 2014.

Boy Scout file

The Boy Scout files on Ashworth include a form dated March 22, 1968, saying Ashworth lived on South Broadway, worked as a draftsman, had a wife and two small children, that he registered with Troop 605 in April 1967 and resigned in February 1968.

A letter on March 5, 1968, from a Wichita Boy Scout executive to a national Scout official said that Ashworth had been removed as Troop 605’s Scoutmaster and “should be put on your confidential list for the following reasons.” It stated that in 1964, in Great Bend, Ashworth was convicted of a charge that involved him making obscene phone calls. The letter also noted that he had been accused of making “licentious advances to an 18-year-old mentally retarded female” in November 1967 and that the case was pending. It’s not clear whether Ashworth was convicted in the 1967 case.

There is no mention in the file of his behavior toward boys in his Scout troop.

The once confidential file also includes an April 18, 1968, letter from the same local Scout executive to the same national Scout official saying that Ashworth had been seeing a psychiatrist, was “making progress” and this: “Mr. Ashworth came up to me the other day and asked if it were possible to get his record cleared. He is not anxious to immediately go back into Scouting and, if so, would want to do it on some level other than direct boy contact but he is anxious to get himself squared away wherever he has been negligent. I never believe in kicking a man when he was down and at the same time, I know we, of course, must be most cautious about a situation such as this.”

The national official wrote back: “I surely agree with you that we have no desire to kick a man when he is down and we try very hard not to do this. This is one of the reasons why we never give any reasons to any one why we may be unwilling to accept an individual’s registration.”

But the official said that helping Ashworth “must remain secondary to our primary concern of helping boys,” that there is “no 100% known cure for problems of this type” and so Ashworth’s registration couldn’t be allowed “either now or in the foreseeable future.”

The national official closed by asking the local official to express to Ashworth “the hope that some day he will become cured of this illness and will be able to live a normal and acceptable pattern of life.”

Two years after that hopeful letter, he received two years of probation for solicitation of a minor, according to an Eagle article.

The crimes

At Ashworth’s trial in 1994, he faced charges that he kidnapped and raped the one mentally disabled woman on Sept. 19, 1993, and that a week later, he committed sexual battery against another disabled woman he also met through the church. The first victim lived at a group home and had gone to Central Community Church for some time, according to a trial transcript.

In an opening statement to the jury, the prosecutor, Debra Barnett, said that after one church service, the first victim stayed, and that Ashworth called the group home supervisor and said he would bring her home. She apparently thought he was taking her to Joyland. Instead, he drove her to a vacant house and raped her. The victim told him to stop, that she wanted to go home, Barnett said.

Another disabled woman said Ashworth took her to her bedroom, had her lie on her bed and touched her in her genital area, Barnett told the jurors.

Ashworth’s defense attorney, Richard Seaton Jr., told the jury his client had been a church volunteer working with developmentally disabled children and adults.

The mother of the rape victim testified about the impact on her daughter. “Things didn’t use to bother (her daughter); but now the least little thing that is different, she gets upset. … She’s gotten much more dependent.”

Ashworth, then 56, testified that he had lived in Wichita about 30 years, that he was a mechanical engineer involved with aircraft and aerospace and that he had several children.

He said the one disabled woman had sex willingly with him on the day in question and that he treated her with “gentleness, kindness.”

In her closing arguments, Barnett told the jury that some force was involved because the victim had some injury. “She was not capable of giving consent to sex” because she didn’t understand the nature of sex. “She’s a wonderful, kind child trapped in a woman’s body.”

The jury convicted Ashworth of all charges.

Pastors write to judge

Shortly before Ashworth’s sentencing in April 1994, pastors at Central Community Church sent letters to Ballinger, the judge, saying: “Even though he has made some very serious mistakes (sin), he is very repentant”; that Ashworth could face decades in prison and that “It would seem to me that it would be of greater value to him to have counseling, rather than such a stiff sentence”; and asking the judge to consider “a sentence of habilitation rather than incarceration.”

At the sentencing, Ashworth volunteered to be castrated and asked for “Christian counseling.”

Ashworth said he spent 17 years in an orphanage and was abused. His attorney told the judge that Ashworth had “enormous psychological problems that have never been dealt with” and recommended that Ashworth get extensive treatment.

Barnett argued that “the fact that the defendant’s been abused … doesn’t mean that he automatically becomes an abuser and somehow that excuses or justifies what he’s doing.”

The prosecutor read a letter from the victim’s mother saying, “I have spent the last 30 years trying to protect (my daughter) from something like this. … Never in my wildest dreams did I think she would not be safe at church.”

The mother wrote: “I understand that this sex crime is not his first, nor even his second. Please … make this his last sex crime.”

Ballinger sentenced Ashworth to more than 25 years for the crimes against the two disabled women, according to an Eagle article at the time. That was in addition to a 3- to 10-year sentence Ashworth got after pleading guilty to a 1992 crime against a 6-year-old.

The church now

Greg Smith, the current executive pastor at Central Community Church, who has been with the church since 2007, said he doesn’t know the situation that existed at the church when Ashworth’s case was going on in 1993 and 1994. Now, Smith said, the church would not allow anyone to drive other church members if it knew they had been convicted or were under suspicion. A conviction or suspicion also would disqualify someone from a leadership or service role, he said.

Whether someone is a volunteer or a staff member, he said, a child abuse policy applies. “We go to pretty serious lengths here” to protect children and others.

“There can be those outside of the church who come into the church to use it for harm … and we have to make it a safe place,” Smith said.

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