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Scientology Crime Syndicate

Sat, 14 Oct 2000

Accused pastor remains in jail

Supporters say Randy Morrow, accused of lewd activity with three teenage boys, is being made a target by the Clearwater police.

By SHARON TUBBS

St. Petersburg Times, published October 14, 2000

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CLEARWATER -- The judge called out "Randy Morrow," and about 20 people stood up. One of Morrow's supporters, eyes closed and head bowed, appeared to be praying during a Friday hearing -- a fitting posture, considering Morrow is pastor of the Church of Hope in Clearwater.

A day after preaching at a weekly Bible study, Morrow was arrested Thursday on three counts of lewd and lascivious exhibition and three counts of lewd and lascivious conduct.

Sheriff's authorities say he touched three boys -- a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds -- on their genitals and committed lewd acts in front of them in a recreational vehicle where they spent nights with him.

The lewd acts occurred sometime around May, said sheriff's Detective Matthew Miller, who has been investigating the case for at least three months. Detectives launched an investigation after receiving a tip from the state Department of Children and Families, Miller said.

At the time of the incidents, he said, Morrow was youth pastor for Countryside Baptist Church in Clearwater.

Miller declined to identify the boys but said he had interviewed them and several other people over the past few months. He talked with Morrow for the first time on Thursday. "There's good probable cause" for the arrest, Miller told a reporter Friday afternoon.

In the courtroom, Morrow appeared on a video monitor as two lawyers strode to the podium to ask that he be released on his own recognizance. Chuck and Judy Morrow, the 40-year-old pastor's parents, also stepped forward. There's a lot more to this story, they told the judge.

According to lawyer John McGuire, the three boys Morrow is accused of molesting tried to extort money from him three months ago. If Morrow didn't give them $1,000, they told him, they would make up a story about him, McGuire said.

But that's not the half of it, Chuck Morrow said. In the past three months, since Morrow started the Church of Hope, he has been the subject of intense scrutiny from police. The whole thing is a setup, supporters said.

"We've gone through a lot of harassment," Morrow's father said.

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If Morrow was molesting boys while he was at Countryside Baptist, members were not aware of it, several churchgoers said. Morrow resigned from the church in July, saying he wanted to start a new ministry for homeless and street people in Clearwater.

Morrow quit his job as a manager for a cab company and took the position at Countryside Baptist in 1998. This year, he said he felt the call to reach people in the streets, a place he knew well. Morrow said that he had been a drug and alcohol abuser who spent some nights on the streets himself. Records show arrests dating back to 1985 on charges such as passing bad checks and grand theft.

Since he opened Church of Hope at the end of July, Morrow and others said, about 15 wayward souls have traded drugs, alcohol and other negative behavior for Jesus Christ. Derrick Hudson and Eddie Castellano, both former crack addicts, said the church has changed their lives.

Morrow has kept in contact with clergy at Countryside, including Greg Bentley, who has taken Morrow's place as interim youth pastor, and was at Countryside a week ago, helping with a church program.

Thompson said she and her two teen sons still support Morrow. "He's meant the world to us," Thompson said in court. "He's a great man."

But the Church of Hope received no fanfare from the Clearwater Police Department. Morrow's actions have irked police for the past three months.

"The issue we had with Mr. Morrow was not with regard to him opening the church, but with him feeding the homeless," Clearwater police Chief Sid Klein said. "We've asked him, politely, on a number of occasions to stop feeding the homeless."

Klein said Morrow's after-service feedings conflict with the Clearwater Homeless Intervention Project, or CHIP, a program that requires homeless people to follow certain rules and laws or else be denied a free meal.

Klein gave police orders check out the church. "I had asked the officers to see what is going on there," Klein said in an interview Thursday afternoon. "I've asked them to give extra effort to patroling that area."

Still, Morrow refused to place provisions on his free meals. "Jesus didn't have qualifications on people when he walked up to them," he said.

According to members, Clearwater police have routinely stood outside the church after services. Once, members said, police lined their cruisers in the parking lot with sirens blaring.

The police then teamed up with code enforcement officials, looking for code violations, Klein said.

It turns out the lot where Morrow's church sits is too small for a church by Clearwater's standards. About a week ago, Morrow was cited for a code violation. A court date is set for November.

Morrow's supporters think their interactions with police somehow led to his arrest.

Miller said none of that is relevant to his investigation into the allegations of lewd behavior. The sheriff's detective said he did not work with Clearwater police in the matter and did not know of the beef the city agency had with Morrow.

"There's a dark side to people sometimes," Miller said. "Some people have vices."

Judge Dee Anna Farnell declined to release Morrow. He remained in Pinellas County Jail on Friday in lieu of $120,000 bail

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