Jury finds pastor guilty of child molestation
‘Justice is served,’ says son. ‘I just wish he was off the streets.’
ALBION – A local pastor accused of child molestation more than a decade ago was found guilty on two out of three charges and could face 25 years or more in state prison when he is sentenced on April 6.
Roy Harriger was pastor at Ashwood Wesleyan Church in Lyndonville in 2000 and 2001 when he allegedly abused three of his grandchildren. The jury this afternoon at about 2:45 p.m. gave a unanimous decision, finding Harriger guilty on two out of three counts of course of sexual conduct, meaning the abuse lasted more than 3 months. Harriger could be sentenced to up to 25 years on each of the two counts.
Each juror was polled and all 12 said they found Harriger guilty on two out of three counts. One side of the courtroom, including Harriger’s two sons who testified they were abused by their father as children, hugged and let out a joyous reaction when the verdict was announced.
Harriger’s supporters, including his wife Darlene, sat in disbelief, with one person shouting Harriger was not guilty of the crimes.
“Justice is served,” Harriger’s son Robert told reporters in the courthouse. “I just wish he was off the streets.”
Harriger has been free on bail since he was arrested by State Police on Nov. 27, 2013. Orleans County Court Judge James Punch kept Harriger’s bail at $250,000 today, opting against putting him in jail until the sentencing.
Robert Harriger said his father, 71, is a flight risk. Robert Harriger wanted his father’s bail revoked.
The case clearly divided the family, with Robert and George Harriger testifying against their father. Their sister Joy Fanale testified in defense of her father, saying he never abused her or the children. She was at her parents’ house during some of the time frame when her father is accused of abusing the grandchildren.
Fanale was 24 when she was in a near-fatal car accident on May 1, 2001. She and her daughter, then age 4, moved in with her parents during her recovery.
Roy Harriger allegedly abused his grandchildren between September 2000 and September 2001, according to the State Police.
Fanale’s daughter, now 18, testified her grandfather never abused her. One of her cousins testified Roy Harriger abused him and Fanale’s daughter. But the granddaughter denied that.
Two other grandchildren, Robert Harriger’s children, also testified about abuse by their grandfather. The jury found Harriger guilty on those charges.
“There was no remorse in the courtroom,” Harriger’s son George told reporters after the verdict. “He smiled the whole way through this thing.”
While the jury was deliberating behind closed doors this morning, Harriger talked in the courtroom with many of his supporters from the Community Fellowship Church in Hartland.
There were at least a dozen members of the church in attendance each day for the court sessions, which began last Tuesday.
Tony Montulli of Waterport believes Harriger is innocent of the charges.
“He is a very open, loving person,” Montulli said shortly before the verdict was announced. “We believe in the pastor in how kind and loving he is.”
Montulli started going to Community Fellowship about a year ago. He attends Wednesday’s Bible studies with Harriger. There are about 100 to 125 people who attend the church, which has two services. Judge Punch ruled last year that Harriger could not attend church with children in the building. That prompted the church to hold two different services.
“It would be hard for us to get behind him if he was playing games, but he’s always been honest,” Montulli said. “He’s a friend.”
Another church member said Harriger has strong support in the congregation.
“There are no improprieties,” said the church member, who didn’t want his name used.
He said the Harriger family has clearly been torn apart.
“There are no winners,” the church member said. “There is a lot of devastation here. This is not the way God intended it.”
District Attorney Joe Cardone said Harriger’s crimes go back generations, with Harriger’s sister, his children and grandchildren and other victims.
Harriger’s sister Nona attended the trial and she addressed reporters after the guilty verdict was announced. She said her brother abused her.
“It all started with me,” she said.
Although the family is divided, Nona said the victims in the family and their supporters have been brought closer together since Harriger’s arrest and the trial.
Cardone said Harriger has left a trail of victims in at least three states where he served as pastor. It will be up to law enforcement in Pennsylvania and Michigan if they want to bring charges against Harriger, Cardone said.
He praised the three grandchildren for their courage in testifying against their grandfather.
“The dysfunction has been going on in this family for generations,” Cardone told the jury on Friday. “Thank God they’ve had the strength to come to you to put an end to it and it ends right here.”
The jury didn’t reach a verdict on Friday and returned to the courthouse today. The testimony from three witnesses was read back to the jury today. That concluded at about 2 p.m. About 45 minutes later, the verdict was announced.
“I want to thank you all for carrying this heavy burden for us,” Judge Punch told the jury.