SPOKANE -- A key witness lays a bombshell before the jury in the child sexual abuse civil trial against the Morning Star Boys Ranch. The witness not only claims he was sexually abused at the ranch, but that the former director paid him $2,000 to keep the entire thing quiet.
Michael Clarke was the subject of heated argument in court Monday. The Plaintiffs calls him the 'Rosetta Stone' of their case against Morning Star Ranch. Both sides presented their cases. Until recently, Clarke never told anyone about being a victim of abuse at Morning Star. Back in 2006, he told Morning Star attorneys he was not a victim. Today, he told a jury that was a lie.
The lawsuit involves Kenny Putnam, who says he was sexually abused three times during his stay at Morning Star Ranch in the mid 1980's. In the late 1970's, Michael Clarke began a three year stay there. He claims former director Father Joe Weitenseiner sexually abused him up to 20 times at the ranch, on his boat and on camping trips. Decades later, he says Weitensteiner gave him a bribe as the ranch faced civil litigation.
Last week, Father Weitensteiner said he barely knew Clarke, never gave him money and certainly didn't abuse him. On the stand, Clarke said the exact opposite. Yet, Clarke called Weitensteiner a good man, a father who helped him survive his teens. After his time at Morning Star, Clarke said Weitensteiner gave him money. Then in 2006, there was the alleged hush money meeting.
"To the best of my recollection, well, the bottom line of it is I received an envelope with $2,000," said Clarke.
A few days later, Clarke met with Weitensteiner and a Morning Star attorney. The ranch was facing other lawsuits. Clarke denied any abuse, said he received $2,000, and quickly recanted.
Clarke has a long criminal history, and is serving a sentence at Airway Heights. He presented his story without a jury. It would be up to the judge to decide if it was fit for the trial. In the end, Judge Kathleen O'Connor allowed Clarke's testimony.
The defense hinted it would ask for a mistrial because of the "media circus" his testimony has created. The battle over character continues Tuesday. The defense will call the former Morning Star attorney, who earlier today denied the hush money existed.