Westside Victory Baptist: Pastor Was "Cool Guy"

March 1, 2006
Section: Metro
Edition: Tarrant
Page: B3

Teen describes series of assaults
This report contains explicit language.


FORT WORTH — For most of his life, a teenager testified Tuesday, Larry Nuell Neathery was a "cool" guy who gave him toys and candy and played football and cowboys and Indians when the teen visited his father, who was Neathery's neighbor and a member of his west Fort Worth church. 

But one day in November 2003, when the teenager was 12, he went with Neathery to his church office. Neathery asked the boy to sit on a chair and then massaged the boy's genitals through his clothing. He then told the boy to pull down his pants, the teen testified.


"I was kind of shocked and scared," the teen testified. "I just froze."


The boy, now 15, testified Tuesday at Neathery's trial on sexual assault charges involving five boys over six years.


Neathery, 56, was arrested in April 2004 after the teen told his mother of the assault. Neathery resigned as pastor of the Westside Victory Baptist Church in December 2004 after accusations mounted, including three from his grandsons.


He has been jailed for more than a year with bail set at $750,000.


In Neathery's office that day, the teen testified, the minister also performed oral sex on him and masturbated in front of him before taking him home. Similar incidents occurred twice in the office, the teen said. Each time, Neathery asked the boy to "keep this our little secret," the teen said.


The last assault was in March 2004 when the teen spent the night at Neathery's house, sharing a bedroom with one of Neathery's grandsons, he said. Neathery came to the bedroom and tried to have anal sex with him but left when pushed away, the teen testified.


The next morning, the teen said, Neathery told him that he had performed similar sex acts with his grandson. The teen said he believed that the grandson confirmed the story by nodding.


The teen's mother testified that her son told her what had happened only after she questioned him twice in April 2004, after his father accused his current wife of abusing him.


After authorities were contacted, the teen said, his father said that Neathery had molested him as a boy as well.


In opening statements and in questioning witnesses, defense attorneys Leon Haley and Roderick White portrayed Neathery's accusers as liars who falsely accused the pastor because he was a strict disciplinarian.


"This man was a good preacher," he said. "He tried to teach those young males proper principles of the Bible. When they got out of hand, they turned it into sex abuse."


The attorneys repeatedly asked why the teen didn't tell someone sooner about the assaults if they really happened.

Virginia Caldwell, the sexual-assault nurse who examined the teen at Cook Children's Medical Center, said it is common for children to hide their abuse.


"We've taught them to tell, but they still rarely tell other people," she said. "Parents are almost the last to know. The child doesn't want to hurt their parents."


Haley suggested that the teen may have been abused by his father, who is mentally ill. And once the first boy made an accusation, the other boys, who knew one another from church, copied him, he said.


But prosecutor Rebecca McIntire said Neathery "groomed" boys whose fathers were either absent or ill, gradually enticing them into relationships where he could molest them in private.


"He wrapped himself in the cloak of the church," McIntire said, and led the boys to believe that church members would side with him if they accused him.


One of Neathery's grandsons initially denied seeing Neathery's attempt to assault his friend in the bedroom or being a victim himself, Fort Worth police Detective Dennis Hutchins testified Tuesday. Six months later, however, the grandson told his mother that Neathery had abused him. After that boy and his siblings were questioned, Neathery was arrested again, Hutchins said.


Testimony is scheduled to continue today in Criminal District Court 4.

Martha Deller, (817) 390-7857 mdeller@star-telegram.com