Following in the footsteps of his father, Fred King led a church near Owen Sound where members were beaten and humiliated by the man they called the prophet. The law finally caught up with King last week, but it was a hollow victory for the woman who blew the whistle on his abusive practices.
In the end, the decision whether to accept a plea bargain for the abusive leader of a Southwestern Ontario church was put in the hands of the woman who suffered some of his cruellest blows.
Carol Christie contends she was forced into the Church of Jesus Christ Restored as a teenager by her mother, forced to be intimate as a minor with church founder Stan King, and later, his son Fred King and forced to endure beatings that ripped the fabric from her body and the spirit from her soul — claims that King denied in defending the lawsuit before settling out of court.
So when Grey County Crown attorney Michael Martin said just four days before the trial was to start in May that King was willing to plead guilty to assault charges if sex-related allegations were dropped, Martin recommended the deal, but said he’d go through with a trial if that’s what Christie wanted.
“He was prepared to continue (with a trial) but recommended that we not,” Christie’s husband John Christie told The Free Press. Martin declined to be interviewed by The Free Press.
King admitted he squeezed a child’s hand with crushing force, beat in front of parishioners a teen after she’d tried to run away and stripped a young man in front of his mother, then left him standing outside for hours at night as mosquitoes bit him.
Fred King’s willingness to plead guilty to some charges stunned his victims, who as members of his church outside Chatsworth, near Owen Sound, were taught to call him “prophet” and to believe what he said was the word of God.
“We never thought we’d get a confession from him. We were taken back,” John Christie said.
It was Carol Christie who blew the whistle on King, fleeing his grip in 2008, marrying John a year later, writing a book that alleged she was one of King’s seven wives, appearing on CTV’s W5 in 2012 and filing a lawsuit that was settled out of court with a payment.
That King was only sentenced last week to 18 months in jail and two years of probation disappointed the lawyer who represented Christie and other victims in civil cases.
John Tamming doesn’t blame the judge or Martin but does take aim at a higher authority. “The (judge) is constrained in such cases by what our Court of Appeal has approved as an appropriate bandwidth for such sentences. Clearly, I am disappointed that such pattern of abuse can result in such a relatively minor penalty (and Mr. King will doubtless serve only a part of this sentence),” Tamming wrote in response to questions from The Free Press.
“Fred King was a vicious tyrant. He used his cult to bend vulnerable people to do whatever suited his will. The public beatings and humiliations that took place in the Chatsworth meeting house in particular ensured him a compliant congregation. His mad and violent outbursts also maintained a cowed group of employees who were fully prepared to work for years at slave wages in his printing plant. I would have hoped that placed in that context, the assaults to which he pleaded guilty would have attracted a much longer prison term.”
There was a time, not so long ago, that Carol and John Christie thought a trial might be best, not only because it would expose King’s atrocities but also the great extent to which his followers were brainwashed.
“We were, in one way, looking forward to the trial,” John Christie said. “(Church members defending King would) all be sticking to the same script with very little variation from what they were told to say.”
But they also believed that King’s lawyer would attack the mental stability of Carol Christie. They knew it would be difficult to prove allegations of sexual assaults and crimes without third-party witnesses. And they were convinced church members would testify to whatever King commanded.
“The prophet is all-powerful in this. He’s supposed to be their direct link to God and they do not question that,” John Christie said.
Four days before the scheduled trial in May, Christie agreed to the plea bargain.
There’s no dispute 18 months in jail pales compared to longer sentences given for crimes of lesser significance, John Christie said. They’re disappointed, too, that King wasn’t charged with polygamy but understand that such a charge might not stick because King consummated all marriages but one in bed — only one wife had a marriage licence, Christie said.
But John Christie and his wife focus on what they did accomplish. “There’s the satisfaction of knowing we did our best. The church is disbanded. The printing company that financially supported it is on shaky ground. There are few more escapees. Fred is serving a sentence we’ve been able to get information to the public that this sort of thing can happen in your own backyard.”
Carol Christie chose not to attend the sentencing last Wednesday, her emotional energy spent from an eight-year battle to expose the church and its practices, her husband explained. For the same reason she asked her husband to respond to questions about the sentencing and the church.
After the sentencing, she cried tears of relief, her husband said. “It’s over,” she said. “It’s really over.”