For four years, Jerry Rose has struggled through the loss of his beloved stepdaughter and the knowledge that his wife tried to have him murdered.
On Friday, Rose was further shaken when a judge threw out his lawsuit against the former Issaquah pastor he holds responsible for the destruction of his family.
“I’m just really devastated,” Jerry Rose, 58, said of the ruling that dismissed his suit against Terry Campbell, a former pastor at the now-defunct Issaquah Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“I just don’t understand this,” Rose said, choking back tears at home in Arizona, where he moved after the string of horrifying events that ended with the murder of his 15-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah Starling, in March 1999. “This guy is still out there doing this to people.”
Rose’s suit claimed the church turned a blind eye to Campbell and his controversial spiritual counseling sessions for more than a dozen women at the Issaquah church whom Campbell had diagnosed with multiple personality disorder.
In response to the suit, Campbell admitted he had no formal psychology training other than spiritual counseling and loss bereavement. Church officials defended the pastor’s practices as constitutionally protected religious belief.
“I find it outrageous that the court has found there are no consequences for the church or the pastor,” said Susan Johnson, Rose’s attorney.
“The church trained Campbell in questionable and manipulative counseling methods, put him in a position of power and allowed him to counsel vulnerable people, and moved him from church to church every time complaints arose that he was overly involved in counseling.”
Johnson said she plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Rose filed his lawsuit last year after his wife, Terry Rose, and two young Kingsgate men were convicted of conspiring to murder him. The murder plot failed, but a month later the Roses’ daughter, Sarah Starling, was found slain.
The suit claimed Campbell, 61, took advantage of Rose’s mentally fragile wife and other women in his counseling group by implanting horrific false memories of satanic ritual abuse. Campbell gained control over the women, stole money from some and turned Rose’s wife against him, Rose claimed.
Rose also claimed that officials from local, regional and national governing bodies of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for years moved Campbell from church to church, around the Puget Sound region and beyond, never warning anyone of his past.
SDA church attorneys Pennock Gheen and Donna Chamberlin cited the First Amendment, which provides freedom of religion, as protection from Rose’s multi-million-dollar claim.
The constitutional issues were pivotal, Gheen said, because the SDA church reserves the right to allow its pastors to practice counseling based on the church’s religious tenets.
According to court documents, the church’s General Conference states: “We grant that all mental (as well as physical) illness is a by-product of sin, and may be said, in the ultimate sense, to be caused by Satan. …The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that there is a place for ministry to those who are tempted and controlled by Satanic agencies, and, furthermore, it is not a ministry to be limited to psychologists and psychiatrists.”
In his ruling Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Terry Lukens wrote that state law does not allow damages for a spouse who was injured by a counselor’s interaction with his or her significant other.
Johnson said she objects to that line of reasoning, because Campbell also counseled Jerry Rose.
The judge “completely ignored all of our arguments that Campbell was involved in counseling with Jerry, and ignored his duty not to harm a counselee,” she said.
Lukens also found no evidence Campbell was involved in the attempt on Jerry Rose’s life. He based that judgment largely on a declaration signed by King County Sheriff’s Detective Scott Strathy, who led the criminal investigation.
Even before the judge’s ruling, Campbell had effectively shielded himself from a possible $6 million judgment in the case by filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
After the plot to kill Jerry Rose failed in February 1999, court papers state, the would-be hit man, Jason McDaniels, and his friend, Thomas Mullin-Coston, strangled, beat and stabbed Starling, who had been dating McDaniels. It remains unclear why she was killed, but prosecutors believe she too conspired against her stepfather.
Terry Rose pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and was sentenced to five years in prison. With time off for good behavior, she was released this summer. In a brief statement to the court regarding her ex-husband’s lawsuit, Terry Rose said Campbell merely provided her with spiritual counseling.
Members of the counseling group say the pastor knew of the murder plot. He even helped Starling, who conspired in the plot, prepare for it by storing for her a box full of drugs, photographs and other things she didn’t want police to find in the house after her stepfather’s murder, according to court testimony by a young friend of Starling.
One of Campbell’s court-filed handwritten notes dated Nov. 5, 1998 — fourth months before the attempt on Jerry Rose’s life — includes scribbled words such as “Death of Jerry” and “This Jerry now doesn’t care how it affects people.”
Shortly after her release from prison, Terry Rose told the Journal she couldn’t explain exactly what went on between her and Campbell because she was afraid.
“I have fears about people that you don’t understand,” she said. “If I could stop Terry Campbell, I would. But I can’t.”
Campbell has steadfastly refused to speak to the Journal about this case.