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Sex case against Gospel of Truth members falls apart

Ted Kresge poses in 2006 while the Gospel of Truth house was decorated for Christmas. On Monday, he said he felt vindicated.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times (2006)

Ted Kresge poses in 2006 while the Gospel of Truth house was decorated for Christmas. On Monday, he said he felt vindicated.

ST. PETERSBURG — The accusations involving the Christmas house were stunning.

St. Petersburg police said they had uncovered horrific allegations about young children being sexually assaulted by a member of the Gospel of Truth ministry and forced to have sex with each other as other members watched in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Three ministry members were arrested on charges related to capital sexual battery in April 2006. Until the arrests, the ministry had been best known for its enormous Christmas light display at 2719 Oakdale St. S, one of the largest in the country.

Last week the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office dropped all charges against the three ministry members.

The reason: uncooperative witnesses, conflicting testimony from another witness and an accuser with serious mental health issues including multiple personalities.

Wesley Earl Ball, 74, had initially been arrested on charges of capital sexual battery. Angela Hunnicutt, 44, and Lytricia Gardner, 42, had been arrested on charges related to being principals to capital sexual battery.

Hunnicutt spent about two months in jail and Gardner spent five months in jail before they posted bail. Ball has spent most of the last two years in jail, and was released on bail in February.

All three were longtime members of Ted Kresge's Gospel of Truth ministry. Kresge was never accused of having any knowledge of the alleged acts.

Prosecutor Stephanie Bergen said the case fell apart because of the accuser's serious mental health problems. In addition, a witness in the case recanted his testimony and other witnesses were uncooperative

"At the beginning, we had a very strong, good-faith basis to proceed," Bergen said. "But now you have three witnesses who won't cooperate, one who recants his statement and another with extreme mental health issues that caused us concern regarding her credibility. And we're not going to proceed on a case where we have those issues."

Bergen said the accuser had emotional problems when charges were filed, as do many people who say they were sexually abused. But her problems worsened as the case progressed.

Nothing in the case suggested the accuser concocted the allegations, Bergen said. "There's no evidence or facts that to me that suggest it was made up," she said.

St. Petersburg police declined to comment.

Bill Bennett, an attorney court-appointed to represent Gardner, said problems with the accuser became obvious at a deposition several weeks ago.

Bennett said the woman, who has as many as 6,000 personalities, initially came forward with the allegations after one of her personalities told her to do so as she watched a television show.

Although there were times when the woman could be lucid, Bennett said that her stories grew wilder and she kept accusing more people.

"The prosecutor did the right thing," Bennett said.

The woman, who is not being named because of the nature of the accusations, also had once denied being abused by ministry members in the mid 1990s when authorities were conducting a separate investigation, Bennett said.

Bennett said all three ministry members had passed lie detector tests related to the allegations. Attorneys for Ball and Hunnicutt could not be reached for comment.

After the allegations, Kresge continued to put up his Christmas light display. He also insisted the three defendants were not guilty.

Sometimes, he suffered ridicule from neighbors. In November 2006, children pedaling by on a bicycle yelled out "Child molesters! Child molesters! Child molesters!"

But on Monday, Kresge, 68, said he felt vindicated and was happy the charges were dropped.

He released a statement, saying: "I have maintained from the beginning that the three defendants are innocent. Regarding one of the accusations, we had firsthand knowledge that it was false."

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Sex case against Gospel of Truth members falls apart 05/19/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 22, 2008 5:11pm]
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