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Pastor found not guilty



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Fultz (click for larger version)
April 30, 2013 | 03:52 PM
ELKHORN — A Walworth County jury cleared a former pastor of any wrongdoing after law enforcement officials accused him of failing to notify authorities of sexual assaults occurring between young boys.

Joseph R. Fultz, 49, now of Milton, was the pastor at Grace Evangelical Church in the village of Walworth. Prosecutors said underage parishioners at the church engaged in sexual activity amongsst themselves. No adults are suspected, or were ever accused, of having sexual contact with children. Certain professionals, social workers, teachers and members of the clergy are legally required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Authorities said Fultz knew of the allegations of sexual misconduct and needed to notify law enforcement.

Defense attorney Michael Witt, who represented Fultz in the case, didn't return a phone message to the Regional News for comment. Assisant District Attorney Haley Rea shared her thoughts about why the jury may have reached its verdict.

"Something else that may have effected the jury's decision is the exception for clergy who are mandatory reporters," Assistant District Attorney Haley Rea wrote in an email." There is an exception for communication that is received from confidential communications made privately or in a confessional setting, which are expected to be secret communications. Again, I can't speak for the jury."

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"I think another issue was that the jury did not get to hear about the other children who were sexually assaulted as a result of the defendant's failure to report, due to a previous ruling by the Court," Rea said.

During motion hearings before the trial, former Judge Robert Kennedy dismissed three of the charges.

"One victim that the jury heard about assaulted others later, because that child, at a young age, did not get the proper help to understand that what was done to that child was not something that should be done to others. Sexual assault has a domino effect; it can continue on if left unchecked, and the effects of abuse can last forever."

Ideally, Rea wrote, the laws can be clarified, and, she hopes, the people report suspected sexual abuse.

"My hope is that the issues from this case can be avoided in the future by clarifying the mandatory reporting law and by providing education to mandatory reporters, so that children who are assaulted or abused get help," Rea wrote." Mandatory reporters are protected when they do report and we would prefer to see them report and see children get help then to see mandatory reporters in court."

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