Former Minister Says Boys Lied

By Martha Deller
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
March 4, 2006

FORT WORTH -- After a Tarrant County jury had heard three days of graphic testimony from his accusers, former Baptist pastor Larry Nuell Neathery took the stand Friday, repeatedly denying the sexual-abuse charges against him and suggesting reasons why each of five boys would falsely implicate him.

"I promise to God, and I'll put my hand on the Bible," Neathery said, "I did not touch those children or any children in my entire life."

Convicted child molesters should be executed for such heinous crimes, he said.

Former pastor Larry Neathery said during testimony Friday that convicted child molesters should be executed. Neathery, who is accused of sexually abusing five boys, denies the charges.

In Texas, the death sentence is not an option in such cases. If convicted, Neathery could be sentenced to life in prison, the maximum penalty for aggravated sexual assault. He is also charged with indecency with a child and sexual performance of a child, which carry maximum 20-year prison terms on conviction. He will also be eligible for probation if convicted.

Case by case, the 56-year-old former pastor of Westside Victory Baptist Church denied committing sexual acts with boys ages 5 to 14 between 1998 and 2004, the time frame of the charges.

He suggested that the first accuser, who spoke out in April 2004, blamed Neathery for not protecting him from his father, who is hospitalized for mental illness. The father had falsely accused his wife, the boy's stepmother, of abusing the boy. That led the boy's mother to question her son, who ultimately named Neathery as his abuser.

Neathery said he believes that one of his grandsons, who initially denied being abused, falsely accused him in late November 2004 because Neathery threatened to whip him after the boy kicked a door, threw silverware and cursed his mother and grandmother because he didn't want to help with chores.

Neathery said he believes that two more grandsons accused him of abuse because they were "intimidated" by the other boy.

Neathery's daughter said her sons have no motivation to lie about their grandfather.

"They still cry because they lost their granddad," she said. "We lost our house. They lost their friends. We lost relationships with my brothers. We had persecution from our church. We nearly lost my mother. So they have nothing to gain by lying."

Neathery said he believes that the fifth boy, who accused Neathery of exposing himself, lied because he wanted attention.

Several witnesses, including other pastors and church members, testified in Neathery's defense.

Ronald Bridges, an associate pastor at Westside Victory Baptist, lashed out after prosecutor Mitch Poe asked whether Neathery might have a hidden life.

"To me, he's not guilty, no matter what your facts are," Bridges said. "I feel the man I know and understand to be honest and true has been violated; that there is no proof; that it's all word of mouth accusations."

Douglas Martin, pastor of the Community Church of River Oaks Assembly of God, said he has known Neathery through the city's ministerial alliance.

"His reputation has been tainted with those allegations," Martin said. "He's a human being. God loves him. That's my motivation to support him. But [whether he's a predator] is an unresolved question that has to be based on a finding by a jury."

Prosecutors began calling rebuttal witnesses late Friday to counter Neathery's testimony about his background and prior sexual experience.

Danny Spiars, a 50-year-old jeweler who lives near Austin, testified that he was about 15 when he and Neathery, then 21 and married, met through church. They had consensual sex in Neathery's car in a Fort Worth park, Spiars testified.

His testimony sparked a heated exchanged with defense attorney Leon Haley, who accused him of lying.

"In light of recent events, I think he's capable of what he's accused of, and I think it's disgusting," Spiars said.

Haley then asked Spiars, who acknowledged his homosexuality, how many children he had assaulted.

"Not a one," Spiars replied.

Two other rebuttal witnesses were sworn in, but the jury was sent home for the day while Judge Mike Thomas conducted a hearing on the admissibility of their testimony. One man testified that he and Neathery had a four-month relationship about 10 or 12 years ago. One of Neathery's brothers testified that their father abused them when they were children.

Thomas is expected to decide whether those witnesses will be allowed to testify when the trial resumes at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Criminal District Court No. 4. The case could go to the jury later Monday.