Youth minister’s molestation confession upheld - East Valley Tribune: News

Youth minister’s molestation confession upheld

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Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 9:46 am | Updated: 10:40 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A judge refused Monday to throw out the confession of a Gilbert youth minister accused in the sexual abuse and molestation of a 13-year-old deaf girl.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin today in the trial of James Ward Chapman III, 40, who goes by the name Ward. Chapman was a youth adviser at First United Methodist Church of Gilbert when he was arrested July 14.

His defense attorney, Amy Sitver, argued Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa that her client's confession was coerced by a Gilbert police detective who intimidated her client.

The detective, Ralph Cornejo, said during the hearing that he arrested Chapman after a four-hour interrogation at the Gilbert police headquarters. He said he went to Chapman’s home in Gilbert and asked him to come to the station for some questions.

Cornejo said Chapman agreed to the interview and drove himself to the station.

“I advised him that he was not under arrest, and he may leave at any time,” Cornejo said. “I told him what the victim was stating in her allegations.”

But Chapman said he did not go to the station voluntarily.

“When I voluntarily drove to the station, it was no voluntary," he said. "It was demanded. I could either drive there or he could take me there.”

As Chapman approached the witness stand to testify, his handcuffs and ankle restraints clanked together. He told Judge Helene Abrams that he had never been in trouble before, so he did not know how the interrogation process worked.

He said Cornejo intimidated him, and he was scared to leave the room.

“He just kept pushing," Chapman said. "And I felt defeated and tired.”

Once at the station, Cornejo said he took Chapman to a 10-foot by 10-foot interrogation room. After three hours of interrogation, Cornejo said Chapman had still not made any admissions.

That's when he agreed to a computer voice stress analysis. After the analysis, Cornejo said Chapman admitted to touching the girl inappropriately.

“He stated it was consensual," Cornejo said, "and if she really didn’t want it, he would’ve stopped had she said stop.”

Cornejo said Chapman showed him "you" and "OK" in American Sign Language and said those were the words the girl used during the incident.

Chapman's attorney also said Cornejo led her client to believe that police had DNA evidence, when they didn't.

“On this particular case, I advised him that she was examined, and that his DNA could've been found on her,” Cornejo said. “I wouldn’t say this scares them, but that we make them think we have more cards then we do.”

The judge said Chapman's statements would be admissible in the trial, which is scheduled to run through Thursday.

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