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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Dutro Sisters Say Church Can’t Skate on Abuse

MARTINEZ, Calif. (CN) - A group of sisters whose parents subjected them to 20 years of horrific sexual abuse and torture say they may still have a case against church officials.

Each daughter, now an adult woman, said that church leaders, police officers and social workers stonewalled investigations to protect the parents, Zion and Glenda Lea Dutro, who were prominent evangelical leaders in Antioch, Calif.

Zion Dutro accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 300 years in prison, while his wife pleaded no contest and received a 15-year prison sentence for her actions.

The original complaint sought punitive damages from the city of Antioch, Contra Costa County, a number of officials, Calvary Open Bible Church and two pastors.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins ruled last month that the sisters filed suit too late to hold their community and church liable for the decades of abuse.

The statute of limitations requires victims of child abuse to file actions by their 26th birthdays, and most of the sisters were older than that at the time they filed suit.

In a response Tuesday, filed with the court after some of the defendants asked for clarification, the sisters vowed to continue their fight.

"Since plaintiff Martha McKnelly filed her claims before the age of 26, her federal claims against the city defendants and county defendants for sexual abuse are timely," the response states. "Her claims against the church defendants are also timely for the same reason. There is no requirement that her claims be separately analyzed under the delayed discovery provision contained in [state law] since she filed before her 26th birthday. Additionally, the remaining plaintiffs have claims against the church defendants under [the same state law] since their claims were brought within three years from when they discovered or reasonably should have discovered their psychological injuries occurring in adulthood were caused by the sexual abuse, and because Zion Dutro was an agent of the church."

The women have claimed that they were unaware of their psychological injuries until Dutros were arrested and the trial began. They each claim to suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, Stockholm syndrome, ulcers, panic attacks, vomiting, nausea, insomnia and migraines stemming from their childhood abuse.

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