Published on June 8, 2002
2002- The Press Democrat




The Rev. Don Kimball was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old girl at a church rectory in 1981 in Healdsburg, disappointing victims who wanted him to serve more time.

Kimball could be freed in less than four years with credit for good behavior.

``I'm disappointed,'' said Tressa Johnson, who said Kimball molested her when she was 12. ``I wanted him to serve as long as legally possible.''

Johnson was one of several people who say they were molested by the Catholic priest but weren't named in the criminal charges against him.

``I want to see him suffer,'' said a woman who identified herself in court only as Rebecca. ``Don Kimball scarred me for life.''

The victim in the criminal case, Ellen Brem, was too upset to talk to reporters after Kimball was sentenced.

Speaking in court, Brem, 34, told Kimball: ``I wish you could understand how many people you harmed.''

Kimball, 58, showed no emotion during the three-hour sentencing hearing, which included wrenching testimony by a half-dozen victims. He didn't make a statement.

Prosecutors and the Sonoma County Probation Department had recommended a 14-year sentence, saying Kimball is a sexual predator who molested numerous victims and takes no responsibility for his actions.

But Judge Gayle Guynup said Friday she couldn't legally impose a 14-year term. She said Kimball molested others, but she couldn't use that to increase his prison sentence.

Guynup said she wasn't trying to be lenient on Kimball. ``I have to respect and follow the law,'' she said.

Kimball was convicted of two felonies, each of which carries a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

Guynup said she could order Kimball to serve the terms back to back for a total of 14 years only if she finds there are ``aggravating'' circumstances. She said the other molestation reports don't qualify as aggravating circumstances under the law.

Guynup called Kimball's actions ``despicable'' and said he used his youth ministry to prey on innocent youngsters.

``You have no ability to accept any responsibility for your conduct,'' she told him. ``You have no appreciation for the normal life you have taken away from other people.''

Under Guynup's sentence, Kimball must register as a sex offender with law enforcement authorities.

Kimball's attorney, Chris Andrian, is challenging his conviction and said Friday he will ask that Kimball be released on bail while the case is on appeal.

Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Gary Medvigy said he'll oppose bail for Kimball. The inactive priest has been held in the Sonoma County Jail since he was convicted in April.

He is awaiting trial on assault charges stemming from an altercation with a news photographer during a break in his molestation trial. A conviction could add as much as four years to his sentence.

Kimball was accused of molesting Brem in Healdsburg in 1981 and raping another girl, 14-year-old Mary Agbayani, in the chapel at Santa Rosa's Resurrection Parish in 1977. He was acquitted of the rape charge but convicted on two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct in the Healdsburg case.

During a two-month trial, six other women testified that Kimball molested them during the late 1970s and early 1980s while they were teen-agers in the Catholic Church.

They said they were attracted by Kimball's ministry, which used pop music to reach young people. Kimball molested them during counseling sessions and church outings, they testified.

Former Santa Rosa Bishop John Steinbock testified that he suspended Kimball from church duties in 1990 after the priest admitted molesting parishioners.

Steinbock said Kimball first told him about sexual encounters three years earlier but originally said his partners were adults.

In a separate civil case, Brem, her brother Neil, Chris Ovard and Lorraine Bunz reached a $1.6 million settlement two years ago with the Santa Rosa Diocese over charges Kimball molested them. Ovard spoke in court Friday.

Kimball has repeatedly denied he ever had sexual relations with anyone under 18.

On Friday, Ellen Brem and six other people who say they were abused by Kimball testified. They said his actions damaged their faith, hurt their families and harmed their intimate relationships.

``He molested me and he went on to abuse my sister and some of my friends as well,'' Neil Brem said. ``I'm not ready to forgive him because he is not ready to ask for it.''

Roberta Saum said she was a foster child who saw Kimball as a father figure. ``He totally and completely used me,'' she told Guynup. ``I will only have peace while Don Kimball is in prison.''

Ovard said Kimball raped him repeatedly during a church-sponsored road trip when he was 17. ``I felt guilty and dirty and betrayed,'' he said.

Joanne Brem, the mother of Ellen and Neil, said she feels guilty about trusting Kimball with her children. ``I wasn't there to protect them when they needed me,'' she said.

Kimball also had six supporters who spoke at Friday's hearing, describing him as a devoted friend and teacher who has reformed himself in the past 20 years.

Gloria Tienda, who worked with Kimball at St. John's Catholic Church in Healdsburg, said he deserves leniency. ``I see the good in Don,'' she said.

Aaron Del Monte, who joined Kimball's youth program when he was in elementary school in Healdsburg, said the priest helped him through tough times. ``With Don locked up, our community is a worse place,'' he said. ``This is not a man who needs to be rehabilitated.''

Medvigy said Kimball's good works don't make up for his crimes. ``We are not sentencing that Don Kimball,'' he said. ``It's the one the victims knew.''

He called Kimball ``a remorseless pedophile who shows no compassion for his victims.''

A 14-year prison term would send a strong message to Catholic Church leaders, who have covered up priestly misconduct, Medvigy said.

``They are complicit in a crime against humanity,'' he told Guynup. ``They need to know that this is a crime society will never tolerate.''

He said Kimball should serve consecutive seven-year sentences -- or 14 years -- because he molested so many children. ``We just can't ignore his entire past,'' Medvigy said.

Andrian said Kimball may have had numerous victims other than Ellen Brem but their cases can't be used in determining his sentence.

``Mr. Kimball was not on trial for any of the allegations of any of those who have spoken here today,'' he said.

Andrian said Kimball hasn't molested anyone since 1981. He said Kimball entered the seminary in high school and he never had a chance for a normal sex life.

``There was a degree of immaturity'' about Kimball's crimes, Andrian said.

After the sentencing, Medvigy said he was disappointed by Guynup's decision ``but we'll have to live with it.''

He said there wasn't any prison sentence that would ``make up for what the victims lost.''

Andrian said Guynup made the right decision. He said Kimball isn't happy to be going to prison, but ``he was fearful of going to prison for 14 years.''

Scott Herr, the foreman of the jury that convicted Kimball, said the sentence ``seems a little light'' but he respects the judge's reasoning.

``She has to follow the law,'' he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 568-5312 or Photo: 3 by JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat
1. The Rev. Don Kimball, left, and his attorney Chris Andrian sit in front of victim Ellen Brem while listening to the testimony of others allegedly molested by Kimball before he was sentenced Friday in Sonoma County Superior Court.
2. Angela Ovard, left, comforts her husband, Chris, after he spoke to the court Friday about his alleged molestation by the Rev. Don Kimball when he was a youth. In a civil case, Chris Ovard and three others reached a $1.6 million settlement two years ago with the Santa Rosa Diocese.
3. Roberta Saum leans on her husband, Randall, after she spoke in court Friday about her alleged molestation by the Rev. Don Kimball when she was a youth.