Church elder seeks new trial before sentencing
One of the Jehovah's Witnesses convicted last week of "knowingly and willfully" failing to report to authorities that a 6-year-old girl was being sexually assaulted by a congregant is seeking a new trial.
Terry Ekl, attorney for Colin Scott, 88, filed the motion Tuesday in McHenry County court to vacate the conviction handed down by Judge Mark Gerhardt. Ekl's motion states that prosecutors "failed to prove each element of (the) offense beyond a reasonable doubt."
Gerhardt found Scott and Michael Penkava, 72, each guilty of the misdemeanor charge of violating the abused and neglected child reporting act.
The men each face up to one year in jail at a sentencing hearing scheduled for Friday.
Ekl wrote that the state failed to prove that Scott met with a female congregant who the state alleges told Scott, Penkava and a third elder, who has since died, a child told her she was being sexually assaulted by Arturo Hernandez-Pedraza.
Hernandez-Pedraza, 44, of Crystal Lake, confessed to the elders he was sexually assaulting the girl. However, this was not admitted into trial or considered in the judge's ruling as it was protected by the clergy-penitent confessional privilege.
Hernandez-Pedraza was convicted in 2019 on multiple charges relating to the abuse and is serving a 45-year prison sentence.
During the bench trial, Penkava said first he and the other elder met with the woman. He then made a phone call to attorneys at the Jehovah's Witnesses at the world headquarters in New York seeking guidance. Penkava testified last week that he was told by someone who he thought was a Jehovah's Witnesses attorney, in what is referred to as the service department, that he was not required to report the abuse to police.
Scott was not alerted to the allegations until days afterward and was not present when Penkava was told to not report the abuse to authorities. Instead of reporting the girl's statements to police or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Penkava, Scott and the third elder formed a judicial committee and handled the matter by praying and sharing Scripture with Hernandez-Pedraza.
When the victim turned 18, she again told elders about the sexual assaults during her childhood. Penkava then took her to Crystal Lake police,
During the trial, attorneys for Penkava and Scott argued they are not mandated reporters and did not break any law.
Scott's motion for a new trial could be heard Friday prior to the elders' sentencing hearing.