TheState.com

State, The (Columbia, SC)
2002-08-29
Section: FRONT
Edition: FINAL
Page: A1

WOMAN SAYS DEFENDANT REPEATEDLY FONDLED HER


   RICK BRUNDRETT, Staff Writer

John Hubner sat the 12-year-old girl on his knees, pulled out a Bible from the pew of the First Baptist Church and had her read I Corinthians 13. "Love is patient and kind. . . . Love does not insist on its own way. . . . It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

 

Hubner told her "that's the way he loved me," the young woman testified.

But the ex-deacon's love often was unholy, the now 18-year-old woman told a Richland County Circuit Court jury Wednesday.

 

The frail, thin woman spent several hours testifying how Hubner repeatedly fondled her - mostly at the downtown Columbia church. It was the first time she's publicly told her story.

 

The State newspaper generally doesn't identify sexual abuse victims.

 

The Lexington County woman fought back tears as she struggled to keep her composure.

 

She wears a feeding tube as she battles an eating disorder, an illness her family blames largely on the stress of being fondled when she was 12.

 

The 54-year-old Hubner showed no emotion during the young woman's testimony. Occasionally, he spoke with his lawyers.

 

The West Columbia resident is married and has two grown daughters. He faces up to 90 years in prison if convicted of six counts of lewd acts on a minor. He says he's innocent and is free on $200,000 bail.

 

Five of the six incidents occurred in 1996 and 1997 in the church "annex," a youth group building, indictments say. Hubner taught Sunday school there.

Hubner also is charged with fondling the girl at a church outing in 1996 in Richland County.

 

A small group of First Baptist members has attended the trial since it began Tuesday. The 190-year-old, 5,500-member church is one of the oldest and largest churches in the state.

 

The Rev. Wendell Estep, senior pastor, briefly attended the opening day. In a lawsuit involving another Midlands girl, Estep and the church have been accused of failing to check Hubner's background and of ignoring parents' complaints about Hubner.

 

Circuit Court Judge James Williams ruled Tuesday in a pre-trial hearing that a Phoenix woman can testify Hubner sexually abused her 20 years ago in Maine when she was 12. Hubner pleaded guilty in 1983 to one count of unlawful sexual contact. He went to jail for 364 days.

 

Prosecutors say the Arizona woman's testimony is crucial to their case. In her testimony outside the jury's presence Tuesday, she said Hubner - her neighbor then - repeatedly fondled her in December 1981 and January 1982.

 

The Lexington 18-year-old testified Wednesday Hubner took a special interest in her at First Baptist after she entered seventh grade in the fall of 1996, often hugging her, and telling her he loved her and she was beautiful.

 

The woman testified she often confided in Hubner about her problems with her mother and her frustrations playing softball. Hubner took advantage of that trust, she said.

 

Hubner, who taught Sunday school for boys, fondled her twice while they were alone in her Sunday school classroom in the annex, she testified.

 

One time Hubner pulled up her shirt; another time, he had her touch him, she said.

 

Hubner abused her two other times while teaching her to dance in the third-floor game room, she testified. He also fondled her another time in the dark while she and other children were playing hide-and-seek games on the fourth floor, she testified.

 

The other incident occurred during a church party at Frankie's Fun Park in Harbison in November 1996, she said. Hubner pulled her inside his jacket after asking her if she were cold, she testified.

 

She also told jurors Hubner touched her at a weeklong church camp on Hilton Head Island and at his home. No charges were filed in those incidents.

 

The woman said she didn't tell anyone about Hubner for a long time because she feared him.

 

"He said God was a really big person, and that he was a big person, and that our relationship was private and secret," she said under questioning by Assistant Solicitor Anne Spears.

 

Defense lawyer Carol McCurry questioned her about a July 1998 letter to a youth minister in which she said Hubner never "molested" her, although she was bothered by his behavior. She said she was referring to sexual intercourse.

The Arizona woman is expected to testify today.

Ex-deacon John Hubner has been accused of fondling a Lexington County woman.

   
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