For three hours Tuesday, Robert Hale blamed his wife and family for his troubles, denied ever assaulting his children, and said he only “gave corrections” out of biblical duty and a father’s love.
Then the judge cut him off, called him a liar, and sent him to prison on a 14-year sentence for rape, coercion and incest.
Thus did Papa Pilgrim’s long journey end this week in an Anchorage courtroom.
After the previous day’s bloodcurdling testimony from Hale’s wife and 14 of his children, who described whippings and sexual abuse and years of psychological torture at his hands, Hale got his chance to speak Tuesday morning. He called his family liars.
“I can hardly believe the lips of my children, using words like ‘beat unmercifully,’ ” said the gray-bearded prisoner in a slow drawl. “My children don’t even know what it means to be hit.”
As Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood told him to bring his autobiographical rambling to a conclusion, panic entered Hale’s voice. He said his family — especially the daughter he’d admitted raping in his plea deal — risked eternal judgment unless they repented for lying about him.
“I’m asking my daughter to, please, it’s got to be done,” he said, his voice rising to a high whimper.
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When it came time to deliver the sentence, Hopwood praised the victim statements delivered the day before by the Hale children. He said their words were “a huge first step in extricating themselves” from years of bondage.
“One thing quite remarkable here was the courage of (the rape victim) and the other family who have made these statements,” Hopwood said.
The judge called it “one of the worst cases of domestic violence I’ve seen.” Hale’s practice of beating his daughter until she would no longer resist his sexual advances is “just about as bad as it gets,” he said.
Afterwards, the eldest children said it was a great relief to hear an authority figure like the judge say he believed them.
“I was really pleased with how the judge was able to see through what he was saying,” said Joseph Hale, the oldest son.
CONSIDERED A DANGER
Hale was indicted in September 2005 on 30 felony counts, including rape, assault and kidnapping. His sentencing this week came under terms of a plea agreement first made a year ago, in which he pleaded no contest to three consolidated counts. With two years already served, Hale faces eight to 10 more years behind bars, where he is receiving medical treatment for advanced cirrhosis, diabetes and blood clots.
If the 66-year-old Hale lives that long — and doesn’t violate a court order by trying to contact his family — he would be eligible for parole when he is 74, his defense attorney said.
Hale’s lawyer, Paul Maslakowski with the state Office of Public Advocacy, said Hale would pose little risk, comparing him now to the unmasked “man behind the curtain” in the Wizard of Oz.
Hopwood disagreed. “It is apparent to me that Mr. Hale still believes he is omnipotent,” the judge said.
At the urging of assistant district attorney Richard Payne, Hopwood recommended the parole board “carefully consider” the danger Hale poses to his family. Hale will also face a decade of probation.
Hale’s children, taken in by a large Christian family in Palmer named Buckingham, have “begun to blossom,” the judge said. The children said it was only when they spent time in the Buckingham home that they saw what parental love could mean.
The children said Tuesday they were not surprised their father showed no remorse. They said he would sometimes apologize for his anger and soften his ways, but only as a tactic for regaining control inside the family. Against the outside world, he was always the blameless victim.
In his three-hour self-defense, Hale described his well-to-do upbringing in Texas and denied distant suggestions that his FBI-agent father had anything to do with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Hale said it was the suspicious death of his teenage bride, the daughter of future Texas governor John Connally, that set him on a hippie quest at 18.
“So I became a pilgrim,” he told the court.
He took the name Pilgrim when he moved his family to Alaska in 1998. They performed together as a bluegrass group and were involved in a high-profile battle with the National Park Service over access to their remote McCarthy-area home.
Hale blamed the Buckingham parents for poisoning his family’s minds against him. He blamed the mother of his 15 children, Kurina Rose Hale, for many troubles through the years, including his drinking.
Hale said his children had broken God’s commandments in bearing false witness against him.
“It’s like there’s this whole thing of blame everything on Papa,” he said.
He described his conversion to Christianity, and quoted Scripture from memory in describing the independent course he took: “You need no man to teach you. The Holy Spirit will teach you all things.”
He also quoted from the book of Proverbs to justify “correcting” children with a rod, but said his punishments were always gentle and administered with love. His children described such punishments as the whipping barrel, where their father drew blood with a braided-leather riding crop.
In his summation, Payne, the prosecutor, recalled that when Hale was first arraigned and asked his occupation, his response was: “Father.”
“I really don’t believe he knows what that means,” Payne said.