Ex-Mormon bishop pleads guilty to child sex abuse

Associated Press/September 9, 2011

Salt Lake City -- A former Mormon bishop and co-founder of a nonprofit group that helps women and children in Third World villages faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced in November for sexually abusing children.

Lon Harvey Kennard, 69, from Heber City, Utah, pleaded guilty this week to three counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Each count involves a different victim, and carries a sentence of 5 years to life.

The victims were among six children the man and his wife adopted from Ethiopia, where the couple helped establish an orphanage.

The couple's nonprofit organization, Village of Hope, provided services to destitute communities in Mexico, Central America, Africa and the Caribbean.

Kennard was initially charged with 43 counts stemming from abuse that began in 1995, around the time the defendant was bishop of his LDS ward and one year after he and his wife started the nonprofit agency.

The remaining charges were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.

In a statement, Kennard's family said they understood the choice to negotiate a plea agreement, but were disappointed because the victims had hoped to face him at trial.

"It was with incalculable sadness that our family discovered the deviant actions and secret life of Lon Harvey Kennard in March 2010," the family statement reads. "Losing our husband, father and grandfather this way has been devastating ... we remain hopeful that he will be punished to the fullest extent of the law. We pray for this justice not only as small restitution for the crimes he has committed in the past, but particularly to protect other innocent girls from being victimized by him in the future."

Court records indicate that one of Kennard's male relatives learned about the abuse last year then went searching through the defendant's basement home office for evidence.

The relative discovered photos of women's nude breasts hanging on the office walls, and accessed a hard drive that contained images of the abuse, according to court records.

One victim then called the Wasatch County Sheriff's Office and asked if an abuse case had ever been investigated.

She then opened up about the abuse, as did six other female victims, who told authorities they had been molested hundreds of times, some when they were as young as 10.

The abuse often began with nude "massages," but also involved videotaping the victims in various stage of undress and having them perform sexual acts.

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan scheduled sentencing for Nov. 2.

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