Prophet Stair Still Behind Bars

At his second hearing Wednesday, Stair's Bond was denied by Judge.

The Press and Standard/May 24, 2002
By Libby Roerig

The leader of a local religious community will remain in jail for at least another month, as his bond was denied at a second hearing Wednesday morning.

Ralph Gordon Stair, 69, was arrested May 16 and charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree and two counts of breach of trust. At a May 17 bond hearing, Colleton County Chief Magistrate Richard Wood set a $50,000 bond for each of the financial charges but denied it for the other two.

Stair, who is a self-proclaimed prophet, preaches over AM and short-wave radio to a worldwide audience of followers. Additionally, he has a nearly 100-person community known as the Overcomer Ministry in Canadys.

At Wednesday's hearing, 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Perry Buckner heard both the state's case against Stair and defendant's defense.

State Law Enforcement Division, SLED investigator Travis Avant told Buckner that he felt Stair was flight risk and a danger to the community. To support his flight risk argument, Avant asserted that the minister has "access to a tremendous amount of money," has followers with communities similar to his across the nation and throughout Europe and has traveled extensively in the past.

Because Avant's criminal investigation is in its preliminary stages and will likely result in more charges against the accused, he believes Stair could prevent possible victims from coming forward, as the preacher has a "powerful method of brainwashing."

But Stair's attorney, Colleton native Joenathan Chaplin, argued his client is not a flight risk or a danger to the community. He further asserted that Stair's access to cash should have no influence on bond being set.

Regarding the breach of trust charges, Chaplin believes they exist merely on a technicality. The victims Lawrence and Linda Skenandore, who are former followers that moved back to North Carolina after leaving the farm in November 2000 after being there only a few months, say they gave the preacher nearly $30,000 to invested. After the Skenandores left, they say the money disappeared.

Chaplin said almost all the money was returned to the Skenandores long before Stair was charged with any crimes.

Though two girls say Stair had sex with them over 70 times against their will, Chaplin argued otherwise.

"Each and every time was consensual," he said.

Stair has no prior criminal record and needs to be home with his wife Teresa, 49, who is three months pregnant, according to his attorney.

"He needs to be at home. He needs to handle his affairs at home," Chaplin said.

Despite his prophetic claims, Stair understands Stair understands the charges against him and possible repercussions that could follow, said Chaplin.

"He's a very bright man," he said. "He knows this a matter that needs to be adjudicated. I'm asking you to impose a bond that would be acceptable."

Buckner agreed with Chaplin that Stair's access to funds should not be a consideration in setting a bond amount, but he also expressed concern about turning the defendant loose.

"My concern today is my feeling that the defendant poses a threat to the community," said Buckner. "I am very concerned about his impact on potential victims."

Though bond was denied at this time, Buckner stipulated that Chaplin could file another motion for another hearing at the next term of General Sessions Court, which begins on July 29.

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