Defense Seeks to Shift Blame for Suicide : Minister Testifies to Nally Family Strife

Times Staff Writer

Family strife, including his father’s purported extramarital affair, was largely responsible for the emotional distress that eventually led 24-year-old Kenneth Nally to commit suicide in 1979, attorneys for a Sun Valley church asserted Tuesday.

Walter and Maria Nally, the young man’s parents, are suing Grace Community Church of the Valley, claiming that church ministers were negligent in counseling their son.

However, testimony Tuesday revealed that Maria Nally herself had undergone counseling at the church on her son’s recommendation in late 1976 and early 1977.


The Rev. Duane Rea, one of the four ministers on trial for “clergy malpractice,” testified that Maria Nally suspected her husband of infidelity and traced him to a woman’s apartment. After discovering the purported affair, Maria Nally “had thoughts of killing this woman by stabbing her with a pair of scissors,” Rea recalled from his handwritten notes of the counseling sessions.

Father Had Lost Job

Maria Nally also talked of killing her husband, but “knew it would hurt” their two sons, Rea testified. She complained that Walter Nally had recently lost his job and idled around the home, making the family life “rather unbearable.” Walter also reportedly made demands on the two boys, causing their resentment, Rea said.

The family’s attorney, Edward Barker, did not challenge the contents of Rea’s notes, except to suggest that the diminutive Maria was incapable of homicide and could not have been serious about the threats. Barker at first had tried unsuccessfully to prevent Rea from testifying about his counseling sessions with Maria Nally, claiming the subject was irrelevant.

Church attorney Samuel Ericsson had hinted in his opening statement to the jury last week that Kenneth Nally became estranged from his father because he could not tolerate “his father’s life style.” But it was not until Tuesday that the allegations were aired during a cross-examination of Rea, who had been called to testify by the plaintiffs.

Ericsson and co-counsel David Cooksey said outside the courtroom that they will attempt to show that Kenneth Nally’s emotional problems stemmed from a bad relationship with his father and problems with his girlfriend.

‘Can’t Be Blamed on Church’

“Obviously, Ken Nally did not agree with adultery,” Cooksey said. “That’s not something that can be blamed on the church.”


Rea also counseled Kenneth Nally during several sessions in early 1978. He recalled from his notes that Nally needed “regular discipleship” for problems regarding his family, job, personal image and dating relationships. Concerning dating, Rea testified that Nally was having difficulty suppressing his sexual desires.

Reading from his handwritten summary of counseling sessions with Nally, Rea testified that the young man felt that “things at home are rotten. I can’t get along with my Dad. It seems like my hate for him is stronger than my love.”

Rea said he terminated his formal counseling sessions with Nally on April 7, 1978, because Nally constantly returned to the same problems but ignored Rea’s advice on how to resolve those problems--namely, to “rejoice in the Lord and show gratitude for all things.”

Nally attorney Barker has asserted that Rea abandoned one of the most vulnerable members of his flock in an hour of need.

Rea responded in testimony Tuesday that he is merely a “steward” of God’s time and that he would be remiss if he wasted that time on individuals who refused to follow his counsel. He added that he maintained a friendship with Nally and saw him frequently.

Unwilling to Carry Out Advice

“Ken liked to get advice, but he demonstrated an inability or lack of willingness to carry it out,” Rea testified.


Barker also has charged that Rea and other church ministers failed to steer Nally toward desperately needed psychiatric help, relying, instead, on biblical passages to answer Nally’s depression.

He has alleged that church officials knew that Nally had tried suicide several times and had vowed to try again. The ministers failed to relay that information to Nally’s parents or doctors, who were unaware of his history, Barker said.

Rea testified Tuesday that, if he were to summon a psychiatrist each time one of those who came to him for counsel “inferred self-destruction” in their talks with him, “I’d have to have a hotline to the hospitals.”