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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Sex Offender ‘Haven’ Sued After Murder

PALM BEACH (CN) - A woman claims in court that a religious community deliberately seeks sex offenders to live there, and that one resident raped and murdered her mother.

Shantoria Redden's mother, Ophelia, was sexually assaulted and killed on Jan. 28, 2011. Her body was found in Pahokee, a city on Lake Okeechobee.

James Harmon, a registered sexual predator, was arrested and charged with her murder last year. Harmon pleaded guilty to murder and sexual assault, according to Redden's complaint.

Harmon lived in Pelican Lake, also known as Miracle Park, according to Redden's complaint and contemporary news reports.

Redden sued 14 people and four corporations in Palm Beach County Court.

The corporate defendants are Big Lake Investments, Alston Management, Glades Investments, and Matthew 25 Ministries. She sued the individuals as officers or directors of the corporations.

Evangelical minister Richard Witherow, a defendant, founded Miracle Park as a religious community for people who have difficulty finding housing due to sex-offender laws, according to ABC and NBC News, National Public Radio and others.

"Witherow's parish is the largest sex offender community in the United States, with 66 registered offenders listed as members of the colony," ABC Nightline reported in October 2010.

In her complaint, Redden claims that "the community known as Pelican Lake established as a 'haven' for sex offenders and sexual predators to reside and rent living quarters."

The complaint continues: "Upon information and belief, sex offenders and sexual predators being released from state custody are actively recruited to rent living quarters in the community known as Pelican Lake."

She claims that the defendants had a duty "to either lessen the risk for foreseeable harm or to see that sufficient precautions are taken to protect others from the harm that the risk poses."

She claims that the defendants "actively secured employment for sex offenders and sexual predators within the community surrounding Pelican Lake, thereby expanding the foreseeable zone of risk to the general public; failed to establish and/or enforce a curfew; failed to provide security to the general public in the areas frequented by the sex offenders and sexual predators; failed to adequately warn the general public of the foregoing failures; misled the general public to believe some or all of the foregoing safety measures were being undertaken for their benefit."

She seeks funeral expenses, medical expenses for her and her two adult siblings, and damages for wrongful death and negligence.

She is represented by Bruce Silver, with Silver & Silver, of Boca Raton.

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