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July 22, 2003

Reverend cleared of sex assault charges

From: Norristown Times Herald, PA - Jul 22, 2003

By:MARGARET GIBBONS , Times Herald Staff

COURTHOUSE - The Rev. Leon Lowery last November was arrested on one of the worst charges that could be leveled against a man of the cloth - sexually assaulting a parishioner.

Montgomery County Judge Thomas M. Del Ricci, who this week presided in a one-day non-jury trial, ruled the 71-year-old clergyman was not guilty of both charges of indecent assault filed against him by Conshohocken police after they received a complaint from a 53-year-old deaf and mute female parishioner.
"My dad is pleased that he was vindicated but he always knew he would be," said Terrance Lowery, the son of the former pastor of St. Paul's Baptist Church at Third Avenue and Hallowell Street.
"My dad has been the calmest member of the family since this whole ordeal began," said the younger Lowery on Tuesday. "He had total trust in God that this would be the outcome. He knew he was innocent and never had a doubt that the court system would agree."
Still, said the younger Lowery, the situation has taken its toll on his father. In addition to the financial cost of hiring a lawyer, his father's health has been affected, with his diabetic and high blood pressure exacerbated by the stress of the situation, said the younger Lowery. "People were driving by the parsonage, shouting threats as they went by," said the younger Lowery.
"The family feared for the life of my father and my mother. After people heard about the arrest, they convicted him in their own minds and there are a lot of crazy people out there whom we were afraid would take justice in their own hands."
With parishioners moving to oust him, the younger Lowery said his father opted instead to retire.
"This is a man who had dedicated his life to help others and who we had to convince to cut back on his activities for fear of what some crazy might do," said the younger Lowery.
The younger Lowery blamed the entire situation of a group of parishioners who wanted his father, an ordained Baptist minister who had been a member of the parish for about six years before being elected pastor, out because he became aware of some alleged "improprieties involving church funds."
"These people are not Christians," said the younger Lowery, adding that the family is investigating the possibility of taking civil action against these parishioners. "They took advantage of this physically challenged parishioner who had an earlier dispute with my father and used her as a pawn in all this, but the judge saw through all this," said the younger Lowery.
Defense attorney Joseph E. Bresnan, who represented Lowery, said he believed there were too many inconsistencies in the woman's testimony to convict his client.
For example, said Bresnan, the woman first said she reported the alleged incident to police two weeks to a month after it happened. She subsequently testified that she reported it to police the night of the incident and, later, a day after the incident. Also, said Bresnan, the woman testified that Lowery's wife was in the hospital at the time of the incident. The defense presented testimony from a physical therapist that the therapist visited Lowery's wife at her home both the day before and the day after the alleged incident.
County Assistant District Attorney W. Todd Stephens, who prosecuted the case, attributed the acquittal to the fact that, "in the end, there was not enough evidence to corroborate the victim's testimony."
However, he said, he had no regrets in taking the case to trial.
"She was a very credible witness who needed to have a voice in court," said Stephens. "Unfortunately, we could not speak loudly enough in her behalf."

©The Times Herald 2003