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Pastor sentenced to 15 years in state prison for child molestation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 April 2015 at 12:00 am

Roy Harriger maintains innocence at sentencing

Roy Harriger

Photos by Tom Rivers – Roy Harriger is led through the basement of the Orleans County Courthouse by corrections officer Christopher Shabazz on the way to the elevator and the main courtroom for Harriger’s sentencing at 2 p.m. today.

ALBION – The former pastor of a church in Lyndonville was sentenced to 15 years in state prison today for child molestation.

Roy Harriger, 71, was called “a wolf in shepherd’s clothing,” by Orleans County Court Judge James Punch during sentencing today.

Harriger denied he had sexually abused three of his grandchildren, who testified during his trial in January that he had molested them.

During his sentencing today, Harriger again denied the charges.

“I did nothing of this sort,” Harriger said.

Harriger was pastor of the Ashwood Wesleyan Church in 2000 and 2001, when he is accused of abusing his grandchildren. Many of members at his current church, Community Fellowship Church in Hartland, attended the sentencing in support of their pastor.

Judge Punch and District Attorney Joe Cardone acknowledged numerous letters of support for Harriger.

“There’s no question he has helped a lot of people over the years,” Cardone said in court.

But he also said a jury of Harriger’s peers heard the testimony and evidence against Harriger and found, with a unanimous vote, he had molested two of his grandchildren. (Harriger wasn’t convicted of molesting a third grandchild, who testified against his grandfather.)

“He’s had a tremendous impact on the people he has victimized,” Cardone said. “It’s made this entire family dysfunctional.”

Harriger’s attorney Larry Koss highlighted the many letters on behalf of Harriger. Koss said there was no evidence to support the claims of abuse.

He asked for the minimum sentence for Harriger, who walks slowly and uses a cane.

“He is 71 years old and even with the minimum sentence it is questionable if he would survive,” Koss told the judge. “We recognize that.”

Harriger was convicted of two out of three counts of course of sexual conduct, meaning the abuse lasted more than 3 months. He could have been sentenced to up to 25 years on each of the two counts. Judge Punch gave him 7.5 years for each one – 15 years total in prison plus another 10 years of post release supervision.

After hearing Harriger deny the abuse today, Punch said he didn’t disagree with the jury’s decision.

“I have no quarrel with the verdict of the jury,” Punch said. “Twelve people in a jury of your peers unanimously found you guilty of very disturbing and depraved acts to very young victims who were your grandchildren.”

There were many letters extolling Harriger, but Punch said there were also letters from victims and a presentencing investigation that says Harriger has been sexually abusing people for generations.

Punch said Harriger used his position as a pastor, as a leader in his family and the community, to try to silence the victims.

“The bullying, the use of charisma, the power of your personality were all brought forward to victimize these children and keep them quiet,” Punch said.

He said it was a breach of trust to Harriger’s family, friends, the church and the grandchildren.

“One could say you were a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but you are a wolf in shepherd’s clothing and that’s much worse,” Punch said.

George Harriger and his aunt Nona Blackchief (Roy Harriger’s sister) address the media after today’s sentencing. Both say they were sexually abused by Harriger when they were children.

After the sentencing, Harriger’s oldest son George addressed reporters outside the courthouse. George says he was also abused by his father.

He is thankful his father was sent to state prison, but George wanted a longer sentence to send a message to the victims that speaking out against the perpetrators will put them behind bars for life.

“Justice was definitely served but I feel he got a light sentencing,” George Harriger said. “But he is finally behind bars.”

George said he didn’t speak out when he was being abused.

“He said who’s word do you think they will believe? Yours or mine?” George said about his father.

Harriger’s sister Nona Blackchief also said her brother abused her when she was a girl.

“This has been going on for over 60 years,” Blackchief said.

George wasn’t surprised his father again denied the crimes.

“I wish he would have admitted it, and said he was sorry,” George said. “My kids deserve it, my nieces and nephews deserve it, my aunt and everybody deserves an apology. He needs to own up to it.”