Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Features · Clergy Confession
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Clergy Confession

Man charged with molesting boy wants the evidence thrown out

Patrick Sullivan - April 8th, 2013  

After something unthinkable happened in a restroom during a service at Immanuel Baptist Church in January, one of the church-goers had something urgent to say to his pastor.

Steven William Richard, 28, had just locked a six-year-old boy (who was attending church with his grandfather) in a toilet stall and molested him, and now he wanted to make things right, at least as far as he could see it.

“I specifically said, ‘I need to speak with you in private,’” Richard said in an affidavit in his court file, of his request to his pastor, Matthew Herron. “I stated: ‘I screwed up.’ Pastor Herron asked me, ‘What did you do?’ I responded, ‘I was in the bathroom and gave a small boy a .....!” Herron would later explain in court that he next asked Richard to wait in a balcony near his office where he could keep an eye on him while he met with other churchgoers after that 10 a.m. service.

“A few minutes later the pastor came upstairs and said that he had spoken with a couple other people and they had to call the cops,” Richard said in his affidavit.

Richard, in his affidavit, describes why he thinks it’s unfair that police were called: “I did not at any time tell Pastor Herron that it was okay to call the police. I told him that I wanted to talk to the boy’s family and let them know what had happened and ask for forgiveness. I thought Pastor Herron would counsel all of us.”


Now Richard and his attorney, David Clark, seek to have the admissions Richard made to Pastor Herron that day and all of the evidence that stemmed from the ensuing police investigation thrown out.

Clark argues that Richard had an expectation of privacy due to “clergy-penitent” privilege, and that to prosecute him based on the information that flowed from his conversation with Herron would violate Richard’s constitutional due process rights.

On March 1, Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers ruled against Clark’s motion to suppress evidence. Now the case is on hold and the trial date has been pushed back until at least June after Clark filed a motion for leave to appeal Rodgers’ decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Richard is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carries life in prison.

He is also charged as a two-time offender, which could mean he could receive a sentence of life without parole if he is convicted.

Richard was convicted in 2007 of committing indecent acts or liberties with a child at the United States Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He had been released from federal prison within six months of the recent incident and he was on federal probation.


Clark maintains in his arguments that what Richard sought when he went to Herron after that service was “spiritual counseling.”

He argues that Richard should have been able to expect what he told the pastor to remain confidential.

Clark reasons that if what was discussed had remained between his client and his client’s pastor, none of the police investigation that stemmed from it would have occurred, so all of the evidence subsequently collected by Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Office investigators would not have been collected.

That includes a evidence that Richard’s mother told detectives -- that her son called her while he waited for Herron in the balcony and he said: “I did it again.”

It also includes a statement Richard made to his federal probation agent at the jail after he was arrested when he said something like: “I f---ed up again.”

Clark argued he also believes DNA evidence collected from Richard and the boy during the investigation should be suppressed.


In her response to the motion, Noelle Moeggenberg, Grand Traverse County chief assistant prosecutor, argued that Clark got the nature of that meeting all wrong. Richard didn’t go see the pastor looking to confess or to pray. He was there looking for a way out of going back to prison.

“The defendant stated that he was worried that the grandfather would call the police and he wanted an opportunity for him to have a second chance without the police being involved,” Moeggenberg wrote.

The “clergy-penitent” privilege is laid out in two statutes in Michigan. The first was passed in 1846. The second was passed in 1949. The second one groups the clergy privilege with attorney-client and doctor-patient privilege.

The privilege appears to stem from the tradition of confession in the Catholic faith. Moeggenberg argues that according to Michigan law, use of the privilege needs to be interpreted in the context of the religion in which it is claimed.

At a hearing to decide the motion on March 1, Moeggenberg called Herron as a witness to go into detail about his meeting with Richard.

Herron testified that Baptists don’t believe in “confession” to a pastor. Rather, he said, the only entity that can come between Baptist faithful and God is Jesus, so he said people of his faith believe in making their confessions directly to Jesus.


Herron testified that he believes the safety of children is paramount in his faith.

He told Clark during cross examination:

“One of the things is that we hold the safety of children really, really highly,” he said.

Clark attempted to get Herron to discuss how clergy are exempt from child sex abuse reporting requirements, but Herron said he thought that was more of a gray area. “I don’t know that we’re exempt from it,” Herron said.

Herron said he was also concerned about Richard’s well-being. Richard’s mother was a long-time member of the church and Richard was part of a maintenance crew that sometimes worked on church property. Richard had told Herron that he was a convicted sex offender weeks earlier.

“Your concern is for the child?” Clark asked Herron.

“For the child, yeah. I mean, yeah, if I could say it, I’m not unconcerned for Steven, my heart goes out to Steven. There’s been a lot of tears shed. But I obviously was concerned about the boy.”


At the hearing Rodgers said the fact that Richard wanted Herron to help him speak to the boy’s grandfather negated his claim to privilege.

“If the purpose of the communication with the pastor was to involve the grandfather, is that necessarily an implicit waiver of any type of reasonable expectation of confidentiality?” Rodgers asked at the hearing.

Later, in ruling against the request to suppress the evidence, he said: “This wasn’t a request for forgiveness, it wasn’t a request for guidance, there wasn’t even a request for confidentiality or privacy.”

Richard’s trial is scheduled for June 11 through 13.

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