Lewiston Morning Tribune: Church officials say rumors about sex offender are ‘ludicrous’

Lewiston Morning Tribune | June 7, 2006

Church officials say rumors about sex offender are ‘ludicrous’

By DAVID JOHNSON of the Tribune

MOSCOW — Christ Church Pastor Douglas Wilson and Roy Atwood, president of New Saint Andrews College, Tuesday denied rumors a sex offender was harbored by the church and his crimes hushed up. “Ludicrous,” Wilson said of the allegations that were being spread on the Internet. “He was a student,” Atwood said of the convicted child molester, “and the instant the case came up he admitted to it and he was expelled immediately.”

Steven J. Sitler, 21, is serving one year in the Latah County Jail and will be on probation for life after confessing last year to one felony count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under the age of 16, according to court records. Sentencing Judge John Stegner of Moscow said Sitler could face life in prison if he violates any of the many probation conditions placed on him. According to court records, Sitler told authorities of numerous other sexual assaults he committed with children here and in Stevens County, Washington. Stegner said Sitler’s confessions are unusual among sex offenders and figured in the probation sentence.

And contrary to rumors, Wilson said, rather than try to protect Sitler, he convinced him he needed to tell the truth about, not just his sins, but the crimes he committed. Wilson said he is aware of numerous other potential victims, all children and some of them part of the Christ Church community. “As long as justice was being done, we didn’t want the victims, who were children, to suffer,” Wilson said of his and Atwood’s decision to not go public with the situation. He said the case is a matter of public record and anyone could look at the file. Many of the details, however, have been ordered sealed by Stegner.

Sitler was not a member of Christ Church. But the congregation, Wilson said, was made aware of the situation. Likewise, Atwood said, he immediately told NSA students that Sitler had been expelled for serious violations of the law.

Sitler’s attorney, Dean Wullenwaber of Lewiston, declined comment about the situation. According to court records, he and Latah County Prosecutor William Thompson Jr. reached a plea agreement based, in part, on Sitler’s willingness to tell authorities of other crimes he committed. Thompson could not be reached for comment. Authorities in Stevens County, according to records, agreed to not pursue prosecution as long as Sitler continues to meet his probation requirements in Idaho. In addition to being registered as a sex offender, Sitler must undergo treatment and be closely monitored by probation officers for the rest of his life, according to court records.

Wilson and Atwood said the Internet entries that began appearing Tuesday on blogs and the local Vision 2020 community bulletin board here are most likely from people who continue to attack the church and college on a number of political fronts. “These people are taking a tragedy and using it to advance a petty political agenda,” Wilson said. “This is the kind of thing that they try to make political mileage out of and that is almost as reprehensible as the act,” Atwood said.

Johnson may be contacted at deveryone@potlatch.com or at (208) 883-0564.