Four women accused in the First United Methodist Church child abuse cases were scheduled to appear in Christian Circuit Court Judge John Atkins’ court Thursday afternoon to either set the cases for jury trials or to hear a motion to join all four cases to be tried at once.
Allison Simpson, 25, Rev. Paige Williams, 62, Abby Leach, 33, and Nina Morgan, 53, are all accused of being involved in a criminal abuse case that allegedly occurred at the FUMC Daycare.
After Christian County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rick Boling, who is prosecuting the case, gave an update on what has been occurring in all four cases, he suggested moving the cases to another pretrial conference towards the end of the month.
At the last court meeting for these cases, Boling explained that he had just provided all four defendants new plea deals to consider.
Thursday afternoon Boling updated the court on the status of those offers.
“One offer has been formally rejected, another offer wants to try to do more negotiating between now and the 22nd — that actually applies to two of them,” Boling said to the judge.
“One of them Mr. (Michael) Thompson still has to sit down and talk to his client about the potential resolution.”
Boling did not specify which of the women formally rejected Boling’s offer or who Thompson represents in the case.
Boling continued to explain that he intends to re-present any of the remaining cases that won’t take the prosecution’s plea offer to the Grand Jury for a superseding indictment to determine whether the jury believes its appropriate to indict on one count per victim or one count for each incident.
Boling added that it may only be Leech and Williams that will be presented to the Grand Jury as the other two defendants are continuing to negotiate with the commonwealth.
Atkins then asked Boling if the commonwealth intends to persecute Leech and Williams based on their alleged complicity in the case.
“I assume, without knowing anything about the evidence, the case must turn on the allegation that they were aware of abusive behavior and didn’t prevent it, much like recent cases from the Kentucky Supreme Court where a mom was prosecuted for being complicit in the abuse of her children by her husband even though she didn’t do it herself,” Atkins said to Boling before asking if he was correct, to which Boling said he was.
Boling then requested that the case be set for another pretrial on April 28.
“At that point in time, we’ll know everything — we’ll know what the Grand Jury has done and we’ll know who we’ve resolved and who we have not resolved,” Boling said.
Atkins added that if, by that point, any of the cases are resolved by a plea deal, that would solve the issue of Boling potentially submitting a motion to join and try all four cases at once.
“I don’t think I really have much choice but to do something like that,” Atkins said in response, before asking if any of the defense attorneys had anything to add.
Eric Bearden, who is newly representing one of the defendants, shared that if a motion to join all four cases were submitted by the commonwealth, he and his client would not be opposed.
“In regards to the joinder motion, I have discussed that with my client and thought about it and I think there’s plusses and minuses,” Bearden said. “Overall, I would not have an objection to the commonwealth’s motion.”
Bill Deatherage, who is also representing one of the defendants, shared that he agreed with Boling that it would be best to wait to see the results from the Grand Jury and the negotiations, before he made any decisions about how to move forward.
Atkins ultimately decided to recess Thursday’s hearing and scheduled all four cases to appear in his court again for another pretrial conference on April 28 at 8:30 a.m.
The four of them are facing child abuse-related charges that allegedly occurred at the church’s day care between Dec. 1, 2018, and Jan. 28, 2019.
Simpson is charged with 29 counts of first-degree criminal abuse of a child under the age of 12 and one count of second-degree criminal abuse of a child under the age of 12.
According to New Era archives and the indictment, 11 of the 30 charges are allegedly related to the same child while the other charges are for seven other children who were under Simpson’s care at the daycare.
All counts allege that Simpson “abused (the children) who are under the age of 12, thereby placing (the children) in a situation that may cause serious physical injury, causing torture, cruel confinement or cruel punishment.”
Morgan is charged with two counts of first-degree criminal abuse of a child under the age of 12. Those charges allegedly occurred Jan. 5 and Jan. 16, 2019.
Williams, who was the senior pastor at the church, and Leach, who was the former day care director, are both charged with complicity to first-degree criminal abuse of a child under the age of 12.
According to court documents, Williams and Leach committed complicity to criminal abuse by “intentionally breaching their legal duty to protect (eight) minor children all less than 13 months old, by failing to prevent Allison Simpson from intentionally abusing these children.”