A pastor and two members of a Corona group home accused of beating, pepper-spraying and using pliers on the body of a 13-year-old boy to punish him for sexually assaulting his younger sister must stand trial for kidnapping and other charges, a judge ruled today.
Nicholas James Craig, 22, Darryll Duane Jeter, 28, and Lonny Lee Remmers, 54, could each face more than 15 years in prison if convicted in the case, which was the subject of a preliminary hearing today before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Harry "Skip" Staley.
The judge found there was sufficient evidence to bound Remmers over for trial on one count each of kidnapping and making criminal threats, as well as two counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and child abuse.
Staley dismissed two counts of assault and a child abuse charge against Craig. However, the judge held the defendant to answer charges of kidnapping, making criminal threats, false imprisonment and inflicting corporal injury on a minor.
Jeter was ordered to stand trial on the same counts, though Staley dismissed one count each of assault and child abuse.
The men are slated to appear for a post-preliminary hearing arraignment on Oct. 3. All remain free on bail.
During today's hearing, Corona police Detective Brad Voorhees described four separate instances of alleged child abuse involving the defendants, who are affiliated with the Heart of Worship mission in Corona.
Voorhees testified that in March, the mother of a 13-year-old boy -- identified in court documents only as Jacob -- brought her son to Remmers, a pastor, asking him to keep the youth at the group home on 10th Street because the boy couldn't be trusted around his 7-year-old sister, whom he had sexually assaulted more than once.
According to the detective, Remmers, Craig and Jeter allegedly proceeded to abuse Jacob over the ensuing two weeks.
At one point, Craig and Jeter allegedly drove the boy to the desert outside Barstow, where they allegedly had him "dig his own grave," Voorhees said.
"They told him to get in the hole. He said he kept trying to get out, but they kept pushing him ... kicking him back in," the detective testified.
"He said they told him, 'This is what it feels like to be dead," Voorhees said.
According to testimony, a member of the group home told investigators that on one occasion, the boy was bound to a chair, placed inside a shower and doused with pepper spray. He was allegedly 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.
On another occasion, the defendants allegedly encircled the 13-year-old during a Bible study session in Remmers' garage and directed him to remove his shirt, according to Voorhees.
He alleged Remmers took a pair of pliers, pinched Jacob's left nipple and twisted it until the boy "cried out for him to stop."
A witness later told investigators that he overhead the defendant say, "If it was up to me, I'd rip off your nipple and take a chunk out of your dick."
According to Voorhees, the same witness, Derrick Doughty, alleged he saw one of the defendants put a phone book over the boy's face and punch him with it, a practice that apparently assures minimal bruising.
The detective said when he examined the boy, he detected around 10 "faint" scratches on the child's back, as if he had been whipped with a belt, and a fading scar on his chest.
During cross-examination by Craig's attorney, Daniel Greene, Voorhees acknowledged the boy admitted sexually abusing his sister and told the detective he liked staying at the group home because it "offered him life and love."
"You recall Mr. Craig telling you he was trying to help Jacob by scaring him straight, instilling fear so that Jacob would not rape his sister again?" Greene asked.
"Yes," Voorhees said.
The attorney also asked whether the 13-year-old had said he feared for his life while standing in the desert "grave," and the detective replied the youth doubted the men were serious when they made him get into it.