2 school officials acquitted of abuse
Jury's quick verdict pleases supporters, angers boy's parent

By Alan Maimon, amaimon@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal, October 19, 2002

WHITLEY CITY, Ky. -- A jury took just 45 minutes yesterday to acquit two officials of a religious boarding school of criminal abuse charges in a trial that focused on how corporal punishment was used.

The verdict set off a celebration by supporters of the men, and anger from the parent of a child who testified that he was kicked and injured. It did not affect a court order that shut down the school in February amid a state review of abuse allegations.

Blaine Shaw, 61, executive director of the Beulah Mountain Christian Academy for troubled children, and his son Jeff, 33, a dormitory supervisor, each had been charged with one felony count of criminal abuse.

In a trial that began Tuesday, two students testified they had their heads banged together, were kicked or were excessively paddled. But the jury acquitted the Shaws.

''Hallelujah!'' Blaine Shaw said as he left the McCreary County courthouse surrounded by about 70 supporters. He and his son had faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

''I'm as innocent today as I was eight months ago,'' Blaine Shaw said.

''I was confident in the people of McCreary County,'' Jeff Shaw said.

Despite the verdict, Mike Jennings, a spokesman for the state Cabinet for Families and Children, said yesterday that the agency will seek to prevent the school from reopening under its current leadership.

Jennings said the proof of abuse required in the civil complaint is ''a whole lot less'' than that required in a criminal case.

Blaine Shaw said he was confident the academy would be allowed to reopen. ''They have nothing on us. We are going to continue helping children,'' he said.

A few students 18 or older remain at the academy.

Tim Carr, a Rock Island, Ill., pastor who was one of the Shaws' supporters at their trial, said he was thrilled by the outcome. ''I never had any doubt about their innocence,'' Carr said. ''I've seen them around children and know how good they are with them.''

But Rhonda Campbell of Prestonsburg, the mother of 9-year-old Jordan Ward, one of the boys who testified he had been abused, said she was angered by the verdict.

''I know what happened there, and I can't believe they can get away with it,'' Campbell said. ''They're saying it's OK for people to hurt children.''

The case included four alleged victims, but only two testified against the Shaws. Jordan Ward said he had been kicked while running around a track last year and was left with a deep bruise.

Shane Waggener, 16, of Jasper, Ark., said that 15 other students paddled him three times each on one occasion, and that Jeff Shaw struck him 10 times with a paddle until he bled.

Commonwealth's Attorney Allen Trimble said the issue was whether the jury believed the punishment inflicted on the children was cruel. ''The unfortunate message is that a jury didn't believe that 10 or 45 whacks with a paddle was cruel punishment,'' Trimble said.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney William Gary Crabtree argued that the punishments levied by the Shaws weren't cruel and in some cases were exaggerated by the children.

''The mere fact that the (corporal punishment) policy was exceeded doesn't make it a criminal act,'' Crabtree said. ''Cruelty is supposed to inflict pain and suffering while being devoid of human feelings.''

Beulah Mountain accepted at-risk students whose recommendations came from among the 230 pastors of the Bible Missionary Church. Parents and guardians were required to sign a waiver that allowed staff members to use corporal punishment. The waiver stipulated that school officials could not paddle a child more than twice at any given time.

In February, at the request of the Cabinet for Families and Children, Circuit Judge Paul Braden -- who presided at the Shaws' trial -- temporarily shut down the school after social workers said children were being physically and emotionally abused there.

Braden's order allowed the state to remove the academy's 30 students, from 12 states and Canada and ranging in age from 9 to 18. The students were sent home after being taken to a Louisville crisis-care center.

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