Pine County attorney reviews case against alleged cult leader - FOX 10 News | fox10phoenix.com

Pine County attorney reviews case against alleged cult leader

Posted: Updated:

One week ago, the FOX 9 Investigators told the story of two young women who say they were abused by a cult leader for years in rural Pine County. Now, the county attorney is reviewing the criminal case.

INVESTIGATORS: Maidens of River Road

Although the Pine County Attorney's Office declined to comment beyond saying the investigation is active -- as they always do, Fox 9 News has learned they are actually reviewing the case because the clock is ticking. The criminal statute of limitations to file charges is set to run out next year.

Jess Schweiss and Lindsey Tornambie shared their memories from when they were members of the River Road Fellowship, a group with 150 members and one authorities call a cult.

For more than a decade, the group operated near the town of Finlayson. When Schweiss and Tornambie were just 12 and 13, their parents allowed them to live with other girls -- called "the maidens" -- at the group's large camp headquarters. That's where they say the cult's leader, Victor Barnard, sexually assaulted them for years.

The first tip that came to police dates back four years to a member of the group, David Larson, who confronted Barnard about sleeping with adult, married women in the group. He later learned about the allegations involving underage girls.

On Thursday, Larson told Fox 9 the police did their job -- but he claims Pine County Attorney John Carlson simply wanted the case to go away.

"He kept saying, 'No way we'd win.' We wouldn't win the case. They'd come in with all these experts, discredit these girls -- everyone," Larson said. "He said adamantly that he didn't have a chance to win, but everyone else was 100 percent disagreeing with that."

Larson wasn't the only one to hear the discouraging sentiment either.

"They've explained to me that they're worried they won't win -- that this is a case they can't win, that there are too many people who will defend Victor," Schweiss said. "They will defend him before me."

When declining to file charges against Barnard four years ago after the allegations of adultery -- which is still illegal if it involves coercion by members of the clergy, the county attorney wrote, "The sad truth is: These individuals admit that they were essentially 'brainwashed' by Barnard and readily and willingly did what he wanted them to do."

Prosecutors also wrote that there were concerns Barnard was having sex with juveniles too, but referred to the claims as "merely suspicions" -- much to the chagrin of Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole.

Cole said, "I have no doubt we have probable cause."

With young women now coming forward to police two years after the letter declining charges was written, it remains to be seen whether the doubts county prosecutors expressed before can be cleared up; however, time is running out because the criminal statute of limitations will expire next year.

Investigators believe Barnard and many of his followers left for Washington state, and Cole told Fox 9 News there is no reason to believe he's changed his ways.

  • Most Popular StoriesMost Popular StoriesMore>>

  • 28 new foods at Minnesota State Fair in 2014

    28 new foods at Minnesota State Fair in 2014

    Wednesday, June 25 2014 2:57 PM EDT2014-06-25 18:57:53 GMT
    The Minnesota State Fair is adding 28 new foods to the already massive, artery-clogging list of 500 foods from 300 different vendors. New food include everything from a bacon-wrapped turkey leg and beer gelato to a shrimp dog and chocolate salami.
    The Minnesota State Fair is adding 28 new foods to the already massive, artery-clogging list of 500 foods from 300 different vendors. New food include everything from a bacon-wrapped turkey leg and beer gelato to a shrimp dog and chocolate salami.
  • VIDEO: St. Paul cops use Taser on father in front of children

    VIDEO: St. Paul cops use Taser on father in front of children

    Friday, August 29 2014 12:20 AM EDT2014-08-29 04:20:32 GMT
    Recently-released cell phone footage of an arrest made by St. Paul police at the end of January is triggering outrage against two white officers who used a Taser on a black man in front of his children at their school.
    Recently-released cell phone footage of an arrest made by St. Paul police at the end of January is triggering outrage against two white officers who used a Taser on a black man in front of his children at their school.
  • When hope was gone, parents turned to Google to save baby

    When hope was gone, parents turned to Google to save baby

    Thursday, August 28 2014 11:11 AM EDT2014-08-28 15:11:34 GMT

    They were told by multiple doctors that there was no way to save their baby. That's when they took matters into their own hands, and it ended up being the right choice.

    They were told by multiple doctors that there was no way to save their baby. That's when they took matters into their own hands, and it ended up being the right choice.

Powered by WorldNow

KSAZ-TV & KUTP
511 W. Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85003

Phone: (602) 257-1234
Fax: (602) 262-0177

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | New Terms of Service What's new | Ad Choices