The Arizona Republic , March 26, 1995

By Susan Leonard

Looking for a Christian school that would instill discipline in her 15-year-old daughter, the mother expected the headmaster to be strict.

She didn't dream he would paddle the girl in the nude during an orientation session, then tell the daughter that he loved her as he loved his own children.

According to police, that's what happened last month when mother and daughter saw Michael William Wetton at Connacht Academy Christian School in northwest Phoenix.

Wetton, 41, was arrested Thursday and accused of forcing the girl to disrobe while he struck her buttocks with a wooden paddle three times - twice while she was naked - then making her kneel before him in prayer.

''Ann,'' which is not her real name, and her mother still are reeling from their ordeal.

In an interview Friday night, both broke down in tears as they recounted events and denounced Wetton's claims that he never met the girl.

''All I can say is he's lying,'' said Ann, who just turned 16. ''I did meet him. I could tell you the way he looks, the way he smells, the way he talks.

''I never wanted to go to that school, but I would never lie about something like this.''

Ann, who is getting therapy, also is angry with her mother for not stopping Wetton. After the first whack with the paddle, Ann said, she begged her mother to help, but her mother said no, because Ann never had listened when her mother had asked her to behave.

The mother was present for the second and third swats and at one point told Wetton that Ann deserved to be paddled.

The mother is remorseful, but she said fear paralyzed her when she discovered that her daughter had been forced to undress. She also says she was too intimidated to stop Wetton.

The mother, a native of the Philippines, said she had been taught in Catholic schools not to question authority figures.

''I probably could have done something, but I got scared and I panicked,'' she said. ''I didn't expect any of that. I was just in shock.''

Ann said Wetton had his hand on his groin area much of the time.

''I felt he was getting a thrill out of watching me,'' she said. ''He was being a pervert. It was degrading and nasty.

''I don't think I deserved any of it. I felt like he was tearing my soul in half. I had no dignity. He hurt me more than anybody ever has.''

The mother said she and her husband enrolled Ann at the academy after deciding she needed a stricter environment than a public school. Her grades were falling, she had talked back to her parents and once sneaked out of their house without permission, the mother said.

She said she knew that Wetton practiced corporal punishment and thought a school that incorporated such discipline would prompt her daughter to ''straighten up.'' But she assumed it wouldn't be used unless the girl did something terribly wrong.

She said she paid Wetton $350 and planned to pay $10,000 more for a year of boarding at the non-accredited school at 3818 N. 67th Ave., which has 32 students.

On Feb. 24, mother and daughter went to an orientation session with Wetton, who asked the mother to leave Ann alone with him.

Ann said Wetton made her stand at military attention and asked what she knew about the school and whether she had any hobbies. Then he asked whether she was sexually active, to which she replied yes. He asked whether she had a boyfriend, and again Ann said yes.

''He said, 'You no longer have a boyfriend, because you belong to me now,' '' the girl recalled.

She said Wetton also forbade her from speaking to any of her friends and told her he would paddle her if she didn't obey him.

Then he told her to strip.

The girl said she didn't want to strip but was scared.

''I didn't know what to do,'' she said. ''I just figured my mom must have agreed to all of this.''

Ann said she took off her green-silk jogging suit but wouldn't remove her bra and underwear.

''He said, 'Do you refuse to strip?' I looked at him like he was crazy,'' Ann said.

''He said, 'If you don't strip completely, I'm going to hit you.'

''Then he picked up a paddle and hit me.''

Ann said she ran for the door, screamed for her mother and begged her to help her get away.

The mother said she was shocked to find Ann in her bra and panties but told her to calm down.

''I wasn't thinking,'' the mother said. ''I thought he would strike me if I grabbed her. That's why I kept quiet.''

Ann said Wetton told her that if she disobeyed him, he would ''get a table, tie you to it and hit you 12 times.''

She and her mother said that Wetton made the girl completely disrobe and hit her twice more with a paddle the size of a racquetball racket.

Before one of the swats, Wetton demanded that Ann ask her mother whether she deserved to be hit. Her mother said yes.

The mother said she agreed because she feared Wetton and thought that was the answer he wanted to hear.

They said Wetton then made the girl, still nude, kneel with her hands clasped and recite the Lord's Prayer.

After that, he apologized.

''He said, 'I'm sorry I had to do this to you, but I love you like I love my own daughter,' '' Ann said.

Wetton warned her not to tell the police, Ann said, because he could convince the police that the paddlings were justified. He also told her it was normal for youngsters to be paddled.

''He said, 'I do this to my own kids and the kids at school - boy or girl, big or small,' '' Ann said.

The paddlings left ''significant inflammation and welts to the buttocks of the victim,'' according to a report filed by the Phoenix police.

That night, she and her mother took pictures of her bruised buttocks and tried to contact the police, but they say the police weren't interested in taking a report because it wasn't an emergency.

A few days later, they contacted Phoenix attorney Gary Peter Klahr, who advised them to contact police again and wrote a letter to Wetton describing his actions as ''outrageous and shocking.''

Wetton, who is not a state-certified teacher, is being held without bail in a Maricopa County jail on suspicion of child abuse, assault and kidnapping.

When police arrested Wetton, students led them to two wooden paddles similar to oversized ping-pong paddles, the police report says.

Wetton also is facing trial next month for reportedly leaving bruises on the buttocks of a 9-year-old student after a paddling in August.

Wetton has declined to be interviewed, but his attorney, Michael Roth, said Saturday that Wetton met the girl's parents but ''never met the girl.''

Roth said that Wetton's wife and teen-age son picked up Wetton from the school at the same time that Ann and her mother claim the orientation session took place. He also said the academy does not board students.

In addition, he said, Wetton remembers Ann's mother saying she paddled her daughter after making her stand nude, because that's the way such punishment is done in the Philippines.

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