17 Dec 2008

Prosecutor: child abuse by religious parents akin to "medieval times"

The Statesman Journal - Oregon   December 16, 2008

Child-abuse trial starts

Children of the accused in tears on stand; attorney speaks up for mother

by Ruth Liao

The home of Robyn and Graydon Drown was "something out of a horror story," akin to "medieval times," Marion County prosecutor Sarah Morris told the jury Monday.

Their children were beaten with various implements such as 2-by-4 boards, metal pipes, plastic pipes, spoons and whips. All nine of the children didn't see dentists or doctors.

The first day of trial for the Drowns was Monday. Each parent faces a 25-count indictment of criminal-mistreatment and second-degree-assault charges.

The children — ranging in age from six months to 16 years — were taken by state welfare authorities after the Drowns were arrested June 19 at their rural Turner home.

Morris said it wasn't until two teenage sons disclosed some of the abuse to leaders at Temple Beth Sholom, where the family regularly attended, that the allegations came to light.

"It was a secret life they kept to themselves for a really long time," Morris said.

Morris said the children never went to school and never saw a dentist or a doctor, except when the boys were taken to be circumcised. The oldest son never has been to a doctor to correct his extreme nearsightedness, she said.

"These are parents — parents who made decisions way beyond corporal punishment."

On Monday, an 11-year-old son and a 13-year-old son testified, both speaking clearly at the stand but at times in tears.

The 13-year-old boy spoke of beatings, saying he and his siblings received beatings that would leave bruises or marks. The boy said sometimes, the pain would last more than a day.

The boy described that his happiest time with his family was when his father left to go to California for a week.

The boy said his parents told him the police were bad and only wanted to take the children to be trained to be "little Nazis and do whatever Satan said."

The boy also said his mother was punished as well, forced at times to stand with her nose against the wall or slapped or hit. When asked by Morris if he loved his parents, the boy replied, "I love my mother."

Attorney Brooke Holstedt is representing Robyn Drown. At times, Robyn Drown acknowledged others in court with a smile or a wave, and smiled at her two sons when they each came in.

In his opening statement, Holstedt described Robyn Drown as a woman who was terrorized and manipulated by her husband.

"(There's) not only nine victims," he said. "There was another victim — another serious victim — Robyn Kay Drown."

Holstedt said Graydon Drown believed he was the Messiah and regularly told Robyn Drown that his orders to her came from God. The two were both raised as believers of the Worldwide Church of God and lived in remote parts of Alaska during their marriage before moving to Oregon in 2004.

Holstedt described how Graydon Drown often would recite passages from the Old Testament as arguments for why she should obey him.

"In order for her to survive, she had to submit to ... every order," he said.

Holstedt said Robyn Drown was afraid to leave her husband because of her children.

At one time, Robyn Drown attempted to file a restraining order against Graydon Drown while they were living in Alaska, but Holstedt said Robyn Drown was denied because she did not file a police report.

Two attorneys, Chapin Milbank and Stephen A. Lipton, are representing Graydon Drown, who appeared wearing a black suit and a yarmulke.

Lipton called the case against his client a "misrepresentation."

He said the Drowns have been married for 23 years. Lipton said his client may adhere to religious beliefs outside the mainstream, but believes in what he considers "reasonable" discipline.

Lipton said the evidence would show that the children were raised to be polite, well-mannered and respectful.

Another witness called on Monday was Leslie Gutfreund, who leads weekly prayer meetings at Temple Beth Sholom.

On the stand, Gutfreund described how he would hire Graydon Drown for work with his contracting business and often saw the whole family at job sites. Gutfreund said he employed one of the teen sons to work for him, and became concerned after he saw several bruises and welts on the boy's face and throat.

Another witness, Agnes Opgenorth, attends Temple Beth Sholom and has two of the Drown sons under her care. Opgenorth said Robyn Drown did not seem to be dissatisfied with her relationship with Graydon Drown.

"My impression was that she was very happy and proud of her relationship and her family," she said.

Five other Drown children are expected to appear as witnesses, as well as child-welfare officials, medical professionals and Marion County Sheriff's Office detectives.

The trial is expected to last through Thursday. Circuit Judge Thomas Hart is presiding.

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