Trial begins in suit alleging Mormons overlooked sex abuse
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A trial has begun in West Virginia in a lawsuit accusing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and several officials of covering up years of sexual abuse by one man.
The Journal in Martinsburg reports plaintiffs contend the Mormon Church knew about 26-year-old member Christopher Michael Jensen’s sexual abuse convictions and allegations but “did nothing to warn and protect” their children.
The Church has denied the claims. Defendants say Jensen fooled everyone and repeatedly lied to church officials.
Jurors heard opening statements Thursday from plaintiffs on behalf of the nine families involved in the lawsuit and from the defendants on behalf of the church, Jensen’s parents Chris and Sandra Lee Jensen and church officials Steven Grow and Don Fishel.
Jensen was sentenced in 2013 to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing two children, ages 3 and 4. The lawsuit was filed that same year by plaintiffs who say they were abused by Jensen when they were between the ages of 3 and 12.
Allegations against Jensen date back to 2004, when he was arrested at age 13 at his middle school and charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse against two girls, according to court documents. The lawsuit alleges several church members were made aware of abuse incidents multiple times, but either did not believe the abused or kept the abuse a secret.
The lawsuit also alleges that abuse continued over the years as no one in the Martinsburg church or his family, which included church leaders, disclosed Jensen’s history of sex offenses.
The defense, however, said the church took “appropriate actions” in 2012 when it learned of abuse allegations.
Jensen was excommunicated from the church by the Martinsburg Stake High Council in 2013, according to The Journal.