[Original publication date: May 5, 2004]
Missouri Supreme Court rules in favor of two church elders
by Laurie Patton, KY3 News
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., April 10 – The Missouri Supreme Court says two church elders do not have to talk to a prosecutor about a man accused of molesting two young girls. On Tuesday, the court threw out subpoenas obtained by the Texas County prosecutor to try to compel the elders’ testimony.
Prosecuting Attorney Doug Gaston says he has reason to believe that Robert Eisenhouer of Cabool confided about the crime to the elders of the Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Cabool. In late 1999, Gaston sought to compel Elders Richard Bloom and Charles Graham to talk to him.
In January, a circuit court judge ruled that Bloom and Graham do not have to comply with the subpoena. The prosecutor appealed. In its ruling on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said the circuit court judge was right to quash the subpoenas, which asked the elders to bring material relevant to the criminal case, including “personal knowledge.”
Eisenhouer is charged with two counts of first-degree statutory rape and two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy. Gaston thinks Eisenhouer confessed to the elders about the crimes. Bloom and Graham argued that the subpoena sought to violate minister-parishioner privileged communications, which can legally be kept confidential in most instances. They said forcing them to reveal the details of the conversation would violate their rights to free exercise of religion that are guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.