- Associated Press - Monday, October 19, 2015

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (AP) - The attorney for a church volunteer accused of sexually molesting children is seeking dismissal of the charges, contending the clergyman who brought his concerns to police violated his priest-penitent privilege.

Timothy Probert, 57, of Mercer County is charged with 50 counts related to alleged sexual abuse of children while he was a volunteer at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Bluefield and for the Working to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect (WE CAN) program.

Probert’s counsel argues that the disclosures by Westminster Presbyterian pastor Jonathan Rockness to West Virginia State Police violated the state’s priest-penitent privilege, The Bluefield Daily-Telegraph (https://bit.ly/1M0oqUP) reports.

“Mr. Probert was seeking forgiveness and restoration through the disciplinary channels of his church for acts of misconduct that occurred in many cases decades earlier,” the defense motion states. “This circumstance simply does not fit the criteria established by the Legislature to justify overriding the penitent’s confession to his pastor.”

Objecting to the defense motion, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kelli Harshbarger states that Rockness and church elders were following mandatory reporting laws to protect children who were facing “a clear and present danger of being abused.”

Probert was arrested in December 2013 on 38 counts of child sexual abuse related charges. A grand jury indictment in February 2015 included 12 new charges.

Sgt. M.D. Clemons of the Crimes Against Children Unit of the West Virginia State Police said three of the nine male victims were mentored by Probert when he volunteered with WE CAN and the other six he knew from his church and the community.

Probert is on home confinement.

A hearing on the defense motion to dismiss is scheduled for December.

A special judge was called in to try Probert’s case after all three Mercer County circuit court judges recused themselves.


Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, https://www.bdtonline.com

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