was a Mormon church member in Utah and West Virginia; sentenced to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing two children; local LDS church coverup alleged; LDS church settled civil lawsuit out of court for an undisclosed amount

Case Summary

MARTINSBURG, West Virginia — Five men and one woman were selected Thursday morning to hear a case accusing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and local church officials of covering up allegations that Michael Jensen sexually abused several children over a period of more than five years.

Jury selection began Thursday morning at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department due to the size of the jury pool. Around 100 potential jurors were pulled for the civil case due to the nature of the case and the estimation that the trial could last six to eight weeks.

An order was signed by 23rd Judicial Court Judge Christopher C. Wilkes on Tuesday to name the Sheriff’s Department as an annex of the courthouse to allow the jury selection to take place there. Six individuals and four alternates were sworn in at 12:50 p.m. Thursday, quicker than anticipated, Wilkes said.

The case against the church was initially investigated after Jensen, now 26, was found guilty and sentenced on July 29, 2013, to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing two minors — ages 4 and 3 at the time of the abuse.

The LDS Church has denied the claims, and all attempts to reach a settlement have been unsuccessful, according to the court.

On Thursday afternoon, court proceeded with the jury hearing opening statements from the plaintiffs on behalf of the nine families in the suit and from the defendants on behalf of the church, Jensen’s parents, Chris and Sandra Lee, and church officials, Steven Grow and Don Fishel.

The jury was instructed ultimately to make its decision based upon the evidence including witness testimony, exhibits and facts that both parties have agreed on. The opening statements are meant to tell the jurors what they will be hearing in the case.

The plaintiffs alleged that the church had been repeatedly made aware of and had knowledge of abuse Jensen was convicted of and other alleged incidents, and “did nothing to warn and protect” their children.

The beginning of the alleged abuse dates back to 2004 in Provo. The plaintiffs took the jury through a timeline of events beginning in 2004 during which the alleged abuse occurred. At the age of 13, Jensen was arrested at his middle school and charged with two felony counts of sexual abuse for pinning two 12- and 13-year-old females against a wall and fondling them inappropriately and without consent, according to court documents.

During opening statements, the plaintiffs also alleged that Jensen’s grandfather, an LDS Church leader in Utah, influenced Jensen’s criminal hearing in that case, which resulted in the charges being reduced to two misdemeanor counts of lewdness. They allege that Jensen’s grandfather was present for Jensen’s court proceedings.

The defense denied those claims in their opening statements saying his name did not appear on the list of those who attended and there is no evidence that he had any influence.

Plaintiffs alleged the church knew a sexual behavior risk assessment was done on Jensen and indicated that he was highly likely to reoffend, however, the defense said the church was legally unable to view the report.

In the summer of 2005, the Jensens moved to Martinsburg, according to opening statements, and both of Jensen’s parents accepted leadership roles in the church. While maintaining a role as church leader, Jensen’s mother allegedly recommended Jensen as a babysitter for families with young children within the church in 2007, according to the suit.

According to the defense, the church is not responsible for Michael Jensen, does not control its members’ lives and does not run a babysitting service. The defense also stated that the abuse never occurred at the church or at a church function.

The lawsuit alleges no one in the church in Martinsburg nor his family disclosed Jensen’s previous sex offenses, which allowed the abuse to occur. In April and June of 2007, Jensen was accused of forcing a 4-year-old girl to touch him inappropriately and fondling a 14-year-old girl outside of a movie theater. Jensen’s mother allegedly knew about the movie theater incident and asked the girl if she was OK and if there was “a problem.”

Following the movie theater incident, Jensen’s mother once again recommended Jensen as a babysitter for young children without disclosing his prior sexual convictions or other allegations. The two children assaulted in 2007 later reported the sexual abuse to their parents, and it resulted in Jensen’s subsequent conviction and sentence.

In 2008, Jensen allegedly abused three more children under the age of 8, and the parents of the children confronted Jensen’s parents. Jensen’s mother allegedly told the child victim to “just ignore it.” Jensen’s father allegedly appeared at the family’s home to aggressively deny the abuse as well.

The family allegedly told the former church bishop about the abuse, and he said he spoke to Jensen and did not believe Jensen had abused the minor. The former bishop later denied having a conversation about Jensen’s alleged abuse, and he promoted Jensen in church leadership.

Jensen allegedly assaulted a family member in 2010, and the family held a meeting with Bishop Chris Vincent about the incident. Vincent said he told no one else in the church about the alleged instances of abuse, and he gave Jensen keys to the church so he had a place to sleep.

Jensen continued to hold esteem within the church, and was on a church mission in June 2011 when the parents of two victims reported Jensen to the West Virginia State Police.

The defense told the jury that the church cooperated by flying Jensen back to West Virginia early from his mission.

In addition, the defense said in its opening statements that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form as written in the church’s handbook of instructions. The defense also said the church is a leader in child abuse prevention among religious organizations and took appropriate actions in 2012 when it was made aware of the abuse claims.

The attorney representing Chris and Sandra Lee Jensen said any mistakes they made with Michael were made as his parents and not as church leaders. The Jensens allegedly no longer held their roles when made aware of the abuse.

The defense closed by saying Michael Jensen fooled everyone, and repeatedly lied to church officials.

Sources
  1. Trial against LDS Church in West Virginia begins
    view source details | 19 Jan 2018 | Herald Extra
  2. Man testifies in suit alleging Mormons overlooked sex abuse
    view source details | 18 Feb 2018 | Salt Lake Tribune
  3. Settlement reached in Mormon church case
    view source details | 25 Jul 2018 | The Journal - Martinsburg, West Virginia
  4. 291: "Your Children Are Not Safe!": Alice Koivu & Kelly Plante
    view source details | 19 May 2019 | A Thoughtful Faith Podcast
  5. source 5
    view source details | |
Sources excerpts
  • Trial against LDS Church in West Virginia begins
    Source type: Website
    Publisher: Herald Extra
    Date published/accessed: 19 Jan 2018
    archive 1 | archive 2
  • back to online sources list
    Man testifies in suit alleging Mormons overlooked sex abuse
    Source type: Website
    Publisher: Salt Lake Tribune
    Date published/accessed: 18 Feb 2018
    archive 1 | archive 2
  • back to online sources list
    Settlement reached in Mormon church case
    Source type: Website
    Publisher: The Journal - Martinsburg, West Virginia
    Date published/accessed: 25 Jul 2018
    archive 1 | archive 2
  • back to online sources list
    291: "Your Children Are Not Safe!": Alice Koivu & Kelly Plante
    Source type: Website
    Publisher: A Thoughtful Faith Podcast
    Date published/accessed: 19 May 2019
    archive 1 | archive 2
  • back to online sources list
    source 5
    Source type: News article
    Publisher:
    Date published/accessed:
    archive 1 | archive 2

    --

    from The Journal on 2018-07-25:

    "Settlement reached in Mormon church case

    By Clarissa Cottrill Jul 25, 2018

    MARTINSBURG—Parties in the civil lawsuit against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in the Berkeley County Judicial Center Wednesday for a closed hearing regarding a settlement in the case.

    After nearly two and a half months, parties reached a settlement in the case on March 30, according to 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Wilkes, who had presided over the jury trial since it began Jan. 18.

    However, the settlement was not subject to public disclosure and will remain closed.

    The plaintiffs, the Church defendants, defendants Chris Jensen and Sandralee Jensen and an unnamed defendant filed a joint motion asking the court to close the courtroom to the public for Wednesday’s settlement hearing, according to Berkeley County Circuit Court records. The motion, filed on Monday morning, also asked that the transcript from the hearing to be closed as well.

    “The hearing, by necessity, will involve the details of the proposed settlement, which are confidential under the parties’ agreement,” the motion said. “Further, the Guardian Ad Litem will need to address his evaluation of the settlement and, by necessity, the confidential terms.”

    The court granted the motion Monday afternoon “upon due consideration and for good cause shown,” the order filed in circuit court said.

    The trial will remain under gag order, as requested by the parties, until further order of the court. Due to the court-ordered gag order, lawyers and officials involved are barred from discussing this case outside of the court. The order helps protect the identities and privacy of the minors and victims, as well as maintain the integrity of the settlement until all agreements are resolved.

    In January, the Berkeley County jury was selected to hear the accusations and evidence against The Church and local church officials for allegedly covering up allegations that the son of local church officials sexually abused several children over the course of more than five years.

    The church was initially investigated after Christopher Michael Jensen, of Martinsburg, was found guilty and sentenced on July 29, 2013, to 35 to 75 years in prison for sexually abusing two minors.

    Filed in 2013, the lawsuit against the church accused the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and church leaders of actively covering up the abuse and assisting Jensen in committing further acts by enabling him to babysit for and live with other church families with young children.

    The children in the lawsuit were between the ages of 3 and 12 when they say they were sexually abused by Jensen. Six families, with a total of nine children, filed the suit.

    Defendants in the case included: the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the church; Don Fishel, who was the bishop of the Hedgesville Ward for the Martinsburg stake of the church between 2007-13 and a former member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg; Steven Grow, stake president in Martinsburg; Michael Jensen, who was a member and elder of the Hedgesville Ward of the church; Chris Jensen, Michael Jensen’s father and a high priest and member of the Stake High Council for Martinsburg between 2007-10; Sandra Lee Jensen, Jensen’s mother and a member of the Hedgesville Ward and Relief Society president for the church in Martinsburg between 2006-09; and an unnamed individual.

    After weeks of hearing testimony and listening to dispositions taken in the case, on March 23, Carl Kravitz, an attorney for the plaintiffs, presented to the court that the attorneys had agreed on a resolution for four kids claims.

    Prior to the announcement of the resolution, the court considered a mistrial in the case. The plaintiff and defense attorneys discussed a motion filed by the defense for a mistrial in the case due to alleged misconduct by a witness, which was dropped."

Videos: Christopher Jensen Mormon sex crime case

    • Video title: Mormon Congregation Assaults & Drowns Out Mothers Warning Them That Church Leaders Enable Pedophiles - NewNameNoah - 2019-05-11
    • Video description: "MARTINSBURG, WV. - Two mothers, whose children had been molested by a pedophile that leaders of a Mormon congregation in West Virginia had protected and lied for, took matters into their own hands when they stood up during a testimony meeting this past Sunday [May 5, 2019] and warned the congregation that their church leaders had harbored a pedophile and that their children were not safe. "

Mormon Sexual Abuse Map

International map of locations where active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse or other sex crimes, or where LDS leaders failed or allegedly failed to help abuse survivors.