State, The (Columbia, SC)
Section: FRONT
Edition: FINAL
Page: A1


   RICK BRUNDRETT, Staff Writer

Every time John Hubner answered a question during his cross-examination Friday, he lunged at the microphone.


"Mr. Hubner, isn't it a fact you enjoy fondling children?" 5th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Johnny Gasser snapped at the accused sex offender. "No, that is not a fact," Hubner shot back.


"Isn't it true you that you will do anything and say anything to get out of these charges?" Gasser asked.


"That is not true," Hubner said.


The 54-year-old ex-deacon and youth leader at First Baptist Church in Columbia is charged with fondling a 12-year-old Lexington County girl six times in 1996 and 1997, mostly at the Hampton Street church.


The 5,500-member, 190-year-old church on is one of the largest and oldest in South Carolina.


During his two hours on the witness stand, an angry Hubner denied the charges against him: six counts of lewd acts on a minor. He faces up to 90 years in prison if convicted. The West Columbia resident is free on $200,000 bail.


His defense rested Friday with his testimony in which he also denied a 1983 sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl in Maine.


Hubner lashed out at church leaders and other members, saying they never told him about complaints of misconduct.


"That's the problem with First Baptist Church - nobody wants to talk about anything. They talk among themselves, but they never want to be confrontational."


Those remarks made a woman sitting with church members leave the courtroom in tears.


Hubner's accuser - now 18 - didn't look at him during his testimony. Instead, she clutched a victim advocate's hand the entire time.


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

A 32-year-old Phoenix women who Hubner had sexually abused in Maine 20 years ago left the courtroom during his initial testimony Friday, but returned for the cross-examination.


Although he denied fondling her, he had pleaded guilty in 1983 to unlawful sexual contact and was sentenced to 364 days in jail.


Hubner - a Boy Scout and church youth group leader - never told church or Scout officials about that conviction, prosecutor Gasser said.


A lawsuit involving another 12-year-old Lexington County girl accuses church leaders of failing to check Hubner's background.


Gasser said Hubner, who became a deacon in 1997, didn't list the conviction on a questionnaire for a deacon position.


Hubner said that wasn't a lie. "As a Christian, when you have repented and confessed everything in your life . . . (God) holds you accountable to nothing."

Before Hubner testified, his defense attorneys called nine witnesses.


Among them was Harold Snuggs, a 40-year First Baptist member and a Boy Scout leader, who told jurors Hubner was "one of the most capable and competent Scout leaders I've ever worked with."


Gasser asked the judge for a hearing outside the jury to introduce evidence about Hubner's activities as a Scout leader.


A father at First Baptist told church officials in October 2000 that Hubner had had "inappropriate contact" with his son, who was in Boy Scouts, Gasser said. Hubner also was accused of fondling another boy at a Boy Scout camp, Gasser said. No charges were filed in either case.


The judge did not allow the jury to hear that part of Hubner's past.

In 1998, church officials took away Hubner's Sunday school and youth group duties after the Lexington County woman he is accused of fondling when she was 12 wrote the youth pastor about Hubner.


She waited until December 2000 before telling the Rev. Tad Wilson about the fondling incidents, Wilson testified Thursday. Hubner was arrested in January 2001.


Hubner testified Wilson and Wilson's supervisor, Phil Myers, did not tell him about specific complaints in removing him from the youth ministry. They said only it was "nothing you need to be concerned with," Hubner said.


Hubner, whose family joined First Baptist after moving from Maine in 1991, said he hugged children "all the time" and mentored many. He insisted he never did anything inappropriate.


He told jurors becoming a deacon in 1997 was "the most sacred thing that ever happened to me."


Richland County jurors will begin to discuss Hubner's case Tuesday.