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Globe/David Stonner George Otis Johnston (center), accompanied by his lawyer David Sims, leaves a Newton County courtroom Wednesday after entering innocent pleas to charges of sexually abusing a child. He faces a similar charge in McDonald County.

By Derek Spellman

dspellman@joplinglobe.com

An additional charge was filed Wednesday against the minister of a fringe church who already is facing multiple counts of statutory sodomy in Newton County.

George Otis Johnston, 63, pastor of Grandview Valley Baptist Church North in rural Granby, now faces a charge of child molestation in the first degree, a Class A felony, according to McDonald County Prosecutor Steve Geeding. The charge alleges that the abuse occurred as part of a "ritual or ceremony" at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in McDonald County, the parent organization for the church in Granby.

The victim of the alleged incidents in Newton County - now a 17-year-old girl living in McDonald County - is the same victim of the alleged abuse in McDonald County, court records show.

In the McDonald County case, authorities allege that Johnston repeatedly fondled the victim's breasts, vagina and buttocks beginning in 1999, when she was 11, until 2004, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed by a McDonald County Sheriff's Department deputy.

Johnston termed the sexual contact "before and after actual church services" on Sundays at Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church "angel kisses," according to the complaint Geeding filed.

Johnston faces seven counts of first-degree statutory sodomy and one count of second-degree statutory sodomy in connection with alleged incidents at the church's Newton County counterpart.

He pleaded innocent to that set of charges during a brief arraignment hearing Wednesday morning in Neosho. Johnston and his attorneys, who declined comment, then quickly left the courtroom

In Newton County, Johnston is accused of multiple incidents of abuse dating to when the girl was 8.

Johnston, the girl alleged, "inappropriately" touched her "numerous times" by putting his tongue into her mouth, undoing her pants and fondling her, according to an Aug. 18 probable-cause affidavit from a Newton County Sheriff's Department deputy.

The girl alleged that when she turned 12, Johnston attempted to engage in sexual intercourse with her.

"Johnston told her that he was ordained by God to fulfill her needs as a woman," according to the affidavit. "Johnston stated to her that if she would have sexual intercourse with him that she would remain a virgin and remain pure."

Johnston turned himself over to Newton County authorities on Friday, and immediately posted a $100,000 bond and was released.

He has been the pastor of the church on the compound near Granby, where authorities say about 35 to 40 church members have been living in mobile homes. The group is believed to have moved there about five or six years ago after splintering to some degree from Grand Valley Independent Baptist Church in McDonald County.

The two churches are the focus of an investigation into alleged sexual abuse of children that first led to charges against the pastor, the pastor's wife and two deacons of the church in McDonald County.

Pastor Raymond Lambert, 51; his wife, Patty Lambert, 49; and deacons Tom Epling, 51, and Paul Epling, 53, face multiple charges of sexual abuse of children related to incidents that allegedly took place between 1976 and 2005.

Those four also have posted bond and pleaded innocent to the charges.

Next up

A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 2 in McDonald County on the charges against Raymond Lambert, Patty Lambert, Tom Epling and Paul Epling.

George Johnston is scheduled to appear for a Sept. 18 preliminary hearing in the Associate Division of Newton County Circuit Court.

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