2 sisters sue Jehovah's Witness congregation in Bellows Falls

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BELLOWS FALLS -- Two adult sisters are suing the local Jehovah's Witness congregation they attended as children, claiming they were sexually abused more than 20 years ago and the religious organization ignored the issue.

Miranda Lewis, 23, and 27-year-old Annessa Lewis say they were abused in the 1990s at ages 5 and 4.

Irwin M. Zalkin of The Zalkin Law Firm in San Diego, Calif., and Jerome O'Neill of Gravel & Shea in Burlington released a statement saying they filed in federal court two sexual abuse civil lawsuits on Tuesday against the Bellows Falls congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., the headquarters of the Jehovah's Witness faith.

Zalkin told the Reformer his law firm has teamed up with O'Neill in the past to battle the Roman Catholic Church on cases child sex abuse and the two lawyers have recently been fighting for the victims of abuse at the hands of Jehovah's Witness organizations. Zalkin said Miranda Lewis found his law firm while researching online.

He explained the Lewis sisters were members of the Jehovah's Witness congregation in Bellows Falls in the early 1990s and were sexually abused by Norton True, who at the time was a "ministerial servant," which Zalkin described as the equivalent of a Catholic deacon. Zalkin said the girls' mother approached the church about a year after Miranda was molested and "was basically told to keep her mouth shut."

A phone call made to the congregation in Bellows Falls was not returned before presstime on Tuesday. The phone number listed in the phonebook for True was no longer in service and it is unclear if he is still with the congregation.

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Zalkin told the Reformer he has found that the church's elders "have a policy of silence about sexual abuse."

"In our experience with these folks, they are very uncooperative ... They refuse to turn over their records," he said. "They keep records -- they keep copious records, but they won't give them to us, so we've have to get a court order."

When asked if it is trickier to work a case about an incident that is 20 years old, Zalkin said there are always difficulties when it comes to sexual abuse cases.

"But we're pretty comfortable with this case, that we have everything we need," he said. "It was reported to law enforcement at the time. We have some witnesses who can corroborate and I think we're going to be just fine."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.


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