With his steady blue eyes and boyish grin, the unswerving loyalty of his elderly parents and the comfort of their wood-beamed 1908 home in Sierra Madre as a backdrop, it's easy to believe David Rickard.
The 39-year-old former youth pastor and counselor has a quietly self-confident demeanor that has helped him start youth groups and anti-drug-abuse programs in several California communities.
Yet Rickard is either a persuasive con man or he is innocent, as he insists, of 120 counts of oral copulation with a minor filed against him in Redding and Pasadena.
"Imagine one kid saying one thing, and you lose it all," Rickard said. "The people that know me don't believe that this stuff happened at all."
Greg Gaul, the Shasta County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Rickard in Redding, has no problem believing "this stuff" happened, however. He thinks Rickard just has his supporters charmed. "The guy's kind of a charismatic person," Gaul said. "He's interesting to watch up on the stand. He gets this funny smile on his face, and he starts quoting from the Bible."
Rickard last year faced two separate trials on sex charges stemming from a homosexual relationship that he allegedly engaged in for more than 2 1/2 years with a teen-ager. The youth was 15 when he moved out of his parents' Glendale home and traveled in Rickard's company to Northern California. He was 17 when he returned home and told his parents that he had been involved sexually with Rickard.
Because the alleged relationship had occurred in two places, Redding authorities filed 110 charges of oral copulation with a minor, and Pasadena authorities filed 10. Both cases came to trial in 1989 and ended in hung juries, 9-3 for conviction in Redding and 11-1 in favor of conviction in Pasadena.
Rickard has steadfastly maintained he is innocent. During the trials, 10 young men, formerly troubled youths whom Rickard counseled, testified on his behalf, saying they were never sexually approached by Rickard.
Prosecutors are now preparing retrials. Rickard's Pasadena retrial begins Jan. 29, and his Redding trial was scheduled last week to begin April 17.
Before his legal troubles started, Rickard had moved frequently between Northern California and the San Gabriel Valley. Born and raised in Sierra Madre, he worked in area churches during the '70s, in Northern California in the early '80s, and by 1982, was back in the San Gabriel Valley, launching an anti-drug program called "Project Alert."
In 1985, he moved back to Northern California accompanied by the youth who has since accused him. There, Rickard worked at a church and in group homes for teens.
But since the charges were filed, he has given up the jobs in Northern California and moved back into his parents' home in Sierra Madre. He said he has accumulated $90,000 in legal fees, and his parents have mortgaged their house. But he refuses to plea-bargain, as was suggested by the judge in the Northern California case.
The cases have caused some churchgoers from the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys to take sides. Among those siding with Rickard are some members of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Sierra Madre, which Rickard attended as a child in the company of his parents, Jane and Ken, Sierra Madre residents since 1949. Rickard, who said he got interested in a career as a minister after attending a prayer meeting with a friend in 1975, once served as a volunteer youth worker at Ascension.
Among those on the other side are members of St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Burbank. It was at St. Jude's that Rickard, a youth pastor, met the young man and his family in 1984. Despite reservations by older, more conservative church members who objected to Rickard's long hair, the young man and his parents came to regard the hip youth pastor as a member of the family, said the father.
(The father and son requested that their names not be used because of the young man's age at the time of the alleged sexual activity.)
With his pet macaws, BMW automobile, good stereo system and ability to "talk the lingo" of teen-agers, Rickard made the church's youth program flourish.
"He had a great deal of enthusiasm," the father said. "He had a charm and manner that drove teen-agers to him, especially teen-age boys."
His son, then 14, began spending time with Rickard in Bible study sessions, the father said. When Rickard said he was moving to Northern California to work at the Little Country Church in Palo Cedro, the young man asked to go.
The father said he consented to his son living away from home because of his trust in Rickard.
Only when the youth returned in 1987 and was questioned by his mother did the family discover the true nature of the relationship, the father said. They called Rickard to their house and he confessed, pleading with them not to expose him, he added.
Rickard insists that he only admitted a physical attraction to the boy, who, with blond hair and blue eyes, looked enough like him to be his child. Rickard, who is unmarried and has no children, said. "It was more of an emotional bonding that had taken place."
After the confrontation with Rickard, the family went to the police.
Rickard, who said he has appeared on religious broadcasts on cable television in Northern California, has insisted that he is being persecuted by law-enforcement officials who view him as another Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart.
But prosecutors in Los Angeles and Shasta counties deny that, and they are determined to retry him.
"Here's somebody in contact with lots of young people, and he abuses his position of trust," said Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert C. de Carteret, the prosecutor in the Pasadena case. "The victim is not just a 15-year-old kid. The victim is everybody who sends their kid to church and the YMCA and those programs. They are all weakened by the defendant."
The young man's parents also are determined, even though the retrials mean their son will have to take the stand against Rickard and give painful testimony for a third and fourth time. The youth, who received six months of counseling after he told his parents of the alleged sexual relationship, is now a college student with a grocery store job and a pregnant wife.
"I really want to go on with my life," the young man said recently. "I'd really like to see this over."
Rickard is likewise determined to fight the charges, rebuild his life and stay in youth counseling.
"My commitment to families and people hasn't changed," he said. "That's my life. That's what I do."