Jury to Weigh Sex Charges Against Ex-Gardena Pastor

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a week of hearing graphic testimony about adultery, sexual fantasies, child molestation and religious control, jurors on Monday will begin trying to decide whether a former Gardena pastor sexually abused a 16-year-old parishioner.

According to Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Geltz, former pastor Arleigh Eugene Cox, 60, wrote the developmentally disabled girl numerous manipulative notes to convince her that it was God's will that she have sex with him.

But defense attorney Dean Hall told jurors during closing arguments Friday afternoon that it was all a figment of the girl's imagination.

"She cannot tell the difference between fact and fantasy in this area," Hall said. "She is in a fantasy world and she doesn't even know it. . . . It's sad that (she) believes that she had sex with Pastor Cox. What's really sad is that Pastor Cox is sitting here in court today."

Cox, who resigned earlier this year from his 13-year post as minister at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gardena, faces 14 criminal charges, including one count of rape, four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, two counts of committing a lewd act on a child, five counts of oral copulation with a minor and two counts of penetration with a foreign object.

When he resigned his post, Cox said he was doing so because of an adulterous affair he had had with a woman from the congregation.

At last week's trial, he took the stand to reveal that the nine-year affair was with the mother of the girl making the charges against him.

"It's nothing that Mr. Cox is proud of, but it happened," Hall said of the affair. "And, yes, he was a minister at the time. But you do not go easily from having an affair with an adult to molesting a child . . . and Mr. Cox did not."

Geltz, however, said the affair allowed Cox ready access to the woman's daughter, including at the family home.

The girl testified that she began finding notes in her bedroom in 1989 that told her God did not want her to have boyfriends and that God wanted her to have sex with "P.C.," Pastor Cox's nickname at the church.

In 1990, the notes became more threatening, she testified, with one saying that she would have an accident if she did not "obey God's will and love the pastor."

No notes were introduced as evidence in the trial.

The girl testified that shortly after receiving one of the threatening notes, she was hurt slightly in a car accident. She became terrified and went to Cox's church office. She said he ordered her to disrobe and pose for a Polaroid photograph. The girl testified that he then took her to his camper and had sex with her.

The encounters continued at least once a month until January, the girl testified, when she told her mother about what was happening.

"She is very childlike. You saw that," Geltz told jurors. "She does not have the ability to come in here and fabricate such a detailed lie. . . . Make this defendant accept responsibility for his actions. Find him guilty of all 14 of these crimes."

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