Describing Robbin Leeroy Harper as a predatory monster who wore “kid gloves over an iron fist,” victims and followers of the pastor convicted of molesting several of his young female church members urged Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof to put him behind bars for the rest of his life.
“(Harper) was like the movie character the Godfather, only he doled out slow deaths,” said a church member and mother of one of the five victims Harper admittedly abused as she addressed Judge Roof before the pastor’s sentencing Wednesday. “He patiently and methodically spins his web, then sucks the life out of those around him. There’s something in his core that just isn’t right.”
Harper, 61, and his defense attorney Tom Weaver reached a plea agreement with Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kelly Montgomery that recommended the pastor receive 279 months (23.25 years) in prison, but most who spoke wanted a much longer sentence.
“I want him to be in prison for the rest of his life, so he will not be able to touch another child again,” said another church member who read several members’ statements. “He is an evil man.”
One of the young women abused by Harper addressed Roof herself, saying that Harper had “viciously stolen her innocence” by molesting her, and that it was “torment” for her to be around him.
“I will never be able to forget the pain he caused, and he will never be able to repent,” she said. “It will take a while, but I hope I will be able to move on.”
Harper ran The Church of South Colby for many years out of a gated compound where he lived on Arvick Road. And while at first his followers said they believed Harper cared about them as he did everything for them from performing their marriages to baptizing and schooling their children, many said they slowly realized their leader was very different on the inside.
“He is a dangerous person, and so deceptive,” said a woman who said Harper abused one of her daughters and was “grooming” the other two. “He would be molesting our daughters one day, then be laughing and joking with us the next.”
All of the women who spoke described Harper as constantly striving to maintain power over them, not only isolating them from the outside world but damaging their relationships with their husbands and children.
“Our children began to lose respect for us, and call (Harper and his wife) father and mother,” said one of the women, explaining that Harper told wives who were being abused by their husbands not to seek outside help, and counseled couples separately as a way to foster arguments. “I believe he would have liked to have seen all the women in the church divorced.”
One father of a victim also spoke, telling Roof he came to the church 19 years ago as a troubled Vietnam Veteran and at first found help there, describing Harper and the other church members as a “tight-knit group that felt like family.
“When I found out my daughter had been abused, I wept,” he said, recalling his daughter spending private time with Harper twice a week for what he now realizes was inappropriate contact. “I thought she was being counseled; and he’d come out afterward and call me brother.”
Defense attorney Weaver then spoke about his client, saying the Harper he knew was very different than the man described in court.
“In my experience he is not a monster, but a pleasant, intelligent man whom I know feels horribly about these events,” he said, telling Roof that Harper suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and anxiety following a plane crash in Laos during his military service that left him with brain damage.
“The most important thing, though, is that my client just turned 61, so no matter what, he is not going to get out (of prison) until he is in his 80s,” Weaver said.
Harper then stood and addressed Roof, beginning very slowly and deliberately.
“I am ashamed, and it is very difficult to listen to what’s being said this morning,” he said, explaining that he had tried to seek help for the past two years and that his time in jail had been “very hard,” but also “very beneficial.
“I pray that you will do what’s proper and right,” Harper said.
Lastly, Judge Roof spoke.
“You have clearly violated (these victims’) faith, their bodies and their innocence,” said Roof, reading for the court sections of two of the victims’ statements he had been given. “Each story is a piece of the puzzle that paints a disturbing and horrifying picture of deceit and dishonesty.”
The judge then sentenced Harper to three more years than what the plea agreement outlined, ordering him to spend 318 months (26.5 years) in prison for the most serious of Harper’s counts — rape of a child in the first-degree — along with adding a year’s suspended sentence for the one misdemeanor assault count.
“That way if you are ever released, you will have another year in jail to serve,” he said.