MURRIETA — Church elders in the trial of a Jehovah’s Witness suspected of molesting three girls will have to testify at his trial now that a U.S. District Court of Appeal Monday summarily denied a petition to overturn a local judge’s ruling compelling the testimony.
Opening statements are set for Monday afternoon in the trial of Gilbert Simental, 49, who is accused of lewd behavior with a 9-year-old and two 10-year-old daughters of congregation members during visits by the girls to his Murrieta home in 2005 and 2006.
Simental last week filed an appeal with the 4th District Court of Appeal, asking that the court overturn a ruling by Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul to have the elders, John Vaughn and Andrew Sinay, testify.
The defendant allegedly told these men about his actions with the girls, according to court papers.
In February, Vaughn and Sinay had filed a motion to quash a subpoena to testify, citing privileged and confidential confession to church elders.
However, the judge agreed with the prosecution that the statements made to the elders were made in committee and also that the elders spoke to the parents of the girls following the alleged confession.
Simental maintains that he spoke in confidence to the elders.
Last week, according to records with the 4th District Court of Appeal, Simental filed a petition with the court to hear the case and in the meantime, force the superior court to suspend the criminal proceedings.
The appellate court sent a fax to the Superior Court Monday afternoon informing it of the decision.
Simental’s alleged crimes came to light when the mother of two of the girls told school officials she didn’t want the suspect near her children. The school principal subsequently called police, according to court papers.
After the defendant allegedly told the elders of the congregation about two of the girls, he was transferred to a congregation in French Valley, according to deputy district attorney Burke Strunsky.
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