AP NEWS

Kester mother sentenced for failing to report husband’s sexual abuse of daughters

February 15, 2019

CALDWELL — The mother accused of failing to report her husband’s sexual abuse of their children was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, but will first serve a rider program.

Sarah Kester, 51, hung her head as 3rd District Court Judge Christopher Nye ordered her to first serve a rider program. She could serve a decade in prison, with four of those years fixed if she fails the rider program, he said.

Her husband, Lester Kester Jr., pleaded guilty in November to five felony charges of lewd conduct with a minor. He was charged with four felonies in July, and a fifth charge of sexual abuse came in October when another family member came forward alleging abuse. Sarah Kester was charged in July for felony injury to a child for reportedly failing to report the abuse even though she knew about it for years.

This case in particular was troubling to Canyon County Deputy Prosecutor Erica Kallin because to gain unconditional love from a child, all a parent needs to do is “love them, care for them and protect them.”

“When it comes to Miss Kester, she’s failed,” Kallin said.

Three of the Kesters’ daughters made impact statements Thursday at Sarah Kester’s sentencing in Caldwell, testifying about the “monster” she made them live with.

Her daughters acknowledged that she was a good mom, holding their hair back when they threw up or hugging them when they cried. But, according to one daughter’s testimony, “she did one thing that can’t be overlooked.”

According to the testimony, when the girls would tell their mother about their father’s abuse, she called them “sluts” and “whores” and blamed them for his actions.

The daughters are now in their teens and 20s, and one talked about being a mother, herself.

“I’m being the mother she could never be, and we don’t need her in our life anymore,” one daughter said.

The youngest victim said Sarah Kester did everything a mom was supposed to do “except protect your daughters.”

Now, she calls one of her sisters “mom” instead. She even has someone in her life she would like to call dad, except she doesn’t like that word anymore “because of what my dad did to me,” she said through tears. “It was just nasty.”

“She didn’t save me from the real bad thing that was in her face the entire time,” one victim said. “She never chose to speak of it or save us from the monster. I hope she enjoys life, because we won, and my parents won’t ever be in my life again.”

Defense: Mother grew up in isolated community, had trauma of her own

Sarah Kester, after her July 11 arrest, told Canyon County Sheriff’s deputies she hid her husband’s abuse because getting outside agencies involved in her family’s personal matters went against her beliefs, according to a sheriff’s office press release at the time.

The couple is affiliated with the Followers of Christ Church. The church, which has a prominent following in Canyon County and in Oregon, faces criticism for refusing medical care for children and adults in favor of faith healing.

Instead of contacting law enforcement, Sarah Kester told deputies she tried to protect her children by praying for “the demon” to leave Lester and keeping her husband busy with other tasks, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Sarah Kester’s defense attorney, Bethany Harder Haase, told the court Sarah grew up in a tight-knit and isolated community. She had trauma of her own she never dealt with.

“She did everything that she knew to do to take care of them,” Harder Haase said.

A pre-sentence investigation found deficits in her cognitive and intellectual thinking, which Harder Haase said affected her ability to identify danger.

As Sarah Kester addressed the court, two of her daughters left the courtroom.

“I should’ve paid attention to all the rumors going around,” she said. “I feel so devastated. I should’ve got out of my marriage right there and then.”

In 2015, some of Sarah Kester’s daughters approached their mother again about the abuse because they wanted to protect their youngest sister from being sexually abused by their father. Sarah Kester never reported anything.

Kallin said she believes had Sarah Kester listened to her daughters four years ago, at least the youngest would not have been molested.

Sarah Kester took an Alford plea in October. In an Alford plea, the defendant maintains their innocence but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence a jury would likely find them guilty of the charge.

Lester Kester is set to be sentenced Feb. 26. County prosecutors offered him the deal in agreement that they would not pursue other charges, including possession of sexually exploitative material of a child.