Complainants: Religious servant molested us

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BELLOWS FALLS -- New details emerged in a case of alleged sexual abuse when two sisters filed lawsuits against the local and international Jehovah's Witness governing bodies for turning a blind eye to their molestation by a congregation member 20 years ago.

Annessa Lewis, 27, and Miranda Lewis, 23, are suing the Bellows Falls congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, which they attended as children, and claim it buried the issue when they were sexually abused by "ministerial servant" Norton True at ages 5 and 4 in the early 1990s. The lawsuits were filed Wednesday against True, the Bellows Falls congregation and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., the international headquarters of the Jehovah's Witness faith.

According to the lawsuits filed by Irwin M. Zalkin of The Zalkin Law Firm in San Diego, Calif., True abused Annessa Lewis before her fifth birthday and later did the same to Miranda. Zalkin has previously partnered with Jerome O'Neill of Gravel & Shea in Burlington to fight the Roman Catholic Church on cases of child sex abuse and they have recently been working for victims of abuse at the hands of Jehovah's Witness organizations. Zalkin said Miranda Lewis came across his law firm while researching online and contacted him.

The lawsuits seek damages for injuries suffered due to childhood sexual abuse.

Documents state True baby-sat Annessa Lewis, who now lives in Texas, at his home prior to her fifth birthday. According to Zalkin, True took Annessa to his property's barn and lifted her up to see the horses inside, but while doing this he placed his hands under the little girl's underwear. The complaint states molestation occurred on several occasions.

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Zalkin also alleges that after the first incident, True tried to isolate younger sister Miranda Lewis (who still lives in Vermont) in his barn during a going-away party held at True's home for a family that was leaving the Bellows Falls congregation. The girls' mother, Zalkin says, saw what was happening and took her daughters to her car, prompting True to follow them and Miranda to ask when True was going to touch her again. True immediately denied touching Miranda Lewis, the complaint states, but Annessa said she believed her younger sister because the same thing had happened to her.

Zalkin said the girls' mother reported the abuse to the Bellows Falls congregation's Elders, or those tasked with the local church's daily operations and governance. He said they chose to take no action against True, opted not to warn congregation members of the potential danger True posed to children and chose not to report the allegations to any child protective or law enforcement agency. It is also believed True abused at least three other minors prior to allegedly molesting Annessa Lewis.

Phone calls to the Jehovah's Witness congregation in Bellows Falls were not returned on Tuesday or Wednesday. 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.

According to the complaint filed, Watchtower is directed by a governing body of Elders and controls the Jehovah's Witness faith and the operation of its local congregations. It also reviews and approves/rejects prospective Elders' recommendations for ministerial servants and establishes the process of disciplining members accused of wrongdoing. Congregations are run by a Body of Elders, with duties that include identifying local members of the church and recommending potential ministerial servants to Watchtower. Anyone serving as a ministerial servant is an agent of their congregation and to Watchtower. Zalkin maintains True would not have had the opportunity to abuse the Lewis sisters without the access to them he obtained by being appointed ministerial servant.

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


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