Man who admits years of molestations gets prison

Sentenced in '92 GP case, he confesses to others

The Dallas Morning News, July 14, 1999

A Grand Prairie man sentenced to prison this week for molesting a boy in 1992 said he committed that crime after admitting many similar offenses in East Texas that went unpunished.

Kenneth Eugene Ward, a former teacher and Southern Baptist pastor, said Henderson school officials knew when he quit in the early 1980s that he had been fondling children in his fifth-grade class.

His principal said that "the less he knew, the better," according to a statement Mr. Ward gave Rusk County authorities last fall. They then tried to prosecute him - he confessed to abusing about 30 boys - but a judge dismissed the cases as being beyond the statute of limitations.

Since early this year, principal Ray Deason and the Henderson school district have been fighting a federal lawsuit accusing them of conspiracy and cover-up. Mr. Deason's attorney said Tuesday that he would like to comment but could not, on instructions from the Tyler federal judge overseeing the case.

The school district's attorney could not be reached for comment.

Windle Turley, an attorney representing three young men in the suit, said that Mr. Ward might never have come to the Dallas area and victimized another boy had school officials reported him in the early 1980s.

"The school system facilitated that," Mr. Turley said, noting that child sexual abuse victims are often too traumatized to speak up. "They took deliberate steps to keep it quiet."

Mr. Ward, 52, pleaded guilty late Monday to indecency with a child by contact, conceding that he fondled a 7-year-old boy who visited his Grand Prairie home in 1992. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $1,500 as part of a plea agreement that he and his court-appointed attorney, Robert G. Davis, initially rejected but then accepted.

The boy, now 14, met Mr. Ward through the boy's mother, who belonged to a bowling league for members of First Baptist Church of Grand Prairie, court records say. Mr. Ward befriended the boy and took him to the zoo and the movies.

"We didn't want to think bad of him," said the boy's mother, who also knew Mr. Ward as an adult Sunday school teacher at the church.

Her advice to other parents: "Sometimes if things appear to be strange, it is because they are."

Lead prosecutor Robbie McClung said the family supported the plea bargain.

"His family really wanted for him [Mr. Ward] to admit he'd done something wrong, register as a sex offender . . . and for him to do some serious jail time," she said.

If the case had gone to a jury, Mr. Ward's possible sentence would have ranged from two to 20 years upon conviction. He also could have received probation.

"A 12-year sentence is a good sentence on an indecency case, especially where they're probation-eligible," Ms. McClung said.

Mr. Davis, the defense attorney, said that Mr. Ward decided to accept the plea offer after pretrial hearings didn't go his way. In one key ruling, state District Judge Harold Entz decided that Mr. Ward's confession to Rusk County authorities could be considered by jurors during the trial's guilt-innocence phase.

The defense attorney characterized that as "the tail wagging the dog" to prompt the guilty plea.

"That's what's stirred up all the emotion in the case, which is understandable from a psychological standpoint but not from a legal standpoint," Mr. Davis said.

Trail of victims

In his confession, Mr. Ward said he molested one boy while serving in Vietnam in 1968, then returned to Texas, completed college and began work as pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Cushing. He molested two boys there, he said, before beginning nearly a decade of elementary school teaching in Henderson.

"Sometimes I would be teaching a lesson or reading a story to the class" while fondling a boy sitting in his lap, Mr. Ward said in his statement.

In the late 1970s, it reads, he served about a year as pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Henderson and molested several boys there. Mr. Turley also has sued that church, alleging that some of its leaders knew of improper behavior and did nothing. The church's attorney denied the accusation Tuesday but declined to comment further, citing the federal judge's instructions.

Mr. Ward returned to teaching in the late 1970s and got married in 1981 "because I wanted to try to develop a normal relationship," his statement reads. "It lasted only a few weeks."

He said he told his wife about his attraction to boys and that she warned Henderson school officials. When they confronted him, he said, he admitted what he had done and resigned, according to his statement.

Year of treatment

Mr. Ward said he underwent about a year of pedophilia treatment, lived with his parents for a time and moved to the Dallas area in the mid-1980s. His statement said he has worked in manufacturing for several years and makes no mention of further employment by schools or churches.

Ms. McClung, the Dallas County prosecutor, said three adult men were prepared to testify during the punishment phase that Mr. Ward sexually abused them between 1979 and 1982.

"The grown-ups were telling me that they were only coming forward because the 14-year-old had the guts to testify," she said.

She said that while the three felt bad they hadn't done something that might have prevented Mr. Ward's molestation of the boy in Grand Prairie, "the idea of having to look at this man again was scary."

Author: Brooks Egerton, Holly Becka
Section: NEWS
Page: 21A
Copyright 1999 The Dallas Morning News