A pastor and two members of a Corona church, who beat and threatened the life of a 13-year-old boy being disciplined by the trio for sexually assaulting his sibling, pleaded guilty Monday to felony charges.
Nicholas James Craig, 24, Darryll Duane Jeter, 30, and Lonny Lee Remmers, 56, each reached plea deals with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, under which most of the allegations against them were dropped.
The defendants' attorneys and Deputy District Attorney Melissa Moore informed Superior Court Judge Richard Fields that agreements had been negotiated just as the men were set to go to trial.
Both Craig and Jeter pleaded guilty to making criminal threats and child abuse, and the D.A.'s office dismissed charges of kidnapping, assault with great bodily injury and false imprisonment. Fields immediately sentenced the pair to a year in jail and 36 months felony probation.
Remmers pleaded guilty to child abuse and assault resulting in great bodily injury, in exchange for which prosecutors dropped a separate assault count, as well as charges of kidnapping and making criminal threats.
Fields is expected to certify the plea agreement on Sept. 26 and determine the appropriate sentence for Remmers at that time.
All of the men, who were arrested in March 2012, were affiliated with Heart of Worship mission, which also provides residential counseling services for individuals battling addictions, in the 700 block of West 10th Street.
During a September 2012 preliminary hearing, a Corona police detective testified about four instances in which the men abused a boy identified only as "Jacob."
The juvenile's mother placed him in the group home, run by Remmers, after the then-13-year-old sexually molested his 7-year-old sister, according to testimony.
Remmers, Craig and Jeter used extreme methods to discipline the boy, police and prosecutors said, including driving the child to a deserted location near Barstow, making him dig a grave and threatening to bury him in it if he didn't change his behavior.
According to testimony, a member of the mission told investigators that on one occasion, the boy was bound to a chair, placed inside a shower and doused with pepper spray. He was left tied up in the bathroom for an hour, heaving and struggling for air, his nose bleeding from violently shaking his head to clear his nostrils, according to the witness.
Another time, Remmers took a pair of pliers, pinched Jacob's left nipple and twisted it until the boy cried for mercy, according to witnesses.
A church member complained about the mistreatment to a longtime Corona police officer, Cpl. Margaret Bell, who also belonged to Heart of Worship.
Bell was tried last year on a misdemeanor charge of failure by a law enforcement official to report child abuse or neglect. She acknowledged that an eccentric parishioner had raised concerns about Jacob's welfare but she didn't take the complaint seriously because the man had a history of making strange and implausible claims.
Bell was convicted, fired from the police force and sentenced to six months probation.
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—City News Service.