Jehovah’s Witness Elder Sentenced to 20 years

“God’s Word teaches us how to wait on Jehovah for justice to be done” The Watchtower, August 2021

Written by Lester Somrah - February 24, 2024

February 23, 2024 - Aroostook County, Maine, United States of America. Jehovah's Witness elder, Ernest Fyans, 85 years old, has been sentenced to 20 years for crimes of child sexual abuse.

Below is the unedited tweet of Mark O’ Donnell, a former Jehovah’s Witness, whose hard work contributed to this conviction: 

BREAKING: Superior Court Judge Stephen Nelson has just sentenced former Jehovah's Witness Elder Ernest Fyans to the max. penalty for crimes of child sexual abuse of minors: 20 years for Count 1 and 5 years for Count 2. Defendant Fyans invoked "Jehovah" in his plea, to no avail.

On September 20th, 2023, a jury in Aroostook County, Maine found Ernie Fyans guilty of both counts of child abuse the State was able to prosecute, but hundreds of pages of documents locked inside Jehovah's Witness filing cabinets in several states reveal many more victims.

These documents, sometimes referred to as the "Palmer Leaks" of Massachusetts tell the story of countless JW perpetrators and crimes in the Northeastern US, most of which are concealed from law enforcement officers, obstructing justice on the claim of Clergy-Privilege.

During today's sentencing hearing, victims described the impact of their assaults and rapes at the hands of defendant Fyans as well as additional members of the Fort Kent Maine congregation, including elders and abusers.

Defendant Fyans was permitted to make a statement in his defense, but denied these events and crimes ever happened, and continued to blame one of his victims for making lying accusations against him, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Fyans also acknowledged that he was sent to multiple congregations to "help out", and then continued to blame the victims for being spiritually weak or "inactive."

In an obvious attempt to diminish the authority of the Court, Fyans stated that the "real judge" is Jehovah, and that Jehovah has been Ernie's judge for 50 years.  Fyans claimed that evidence of Jehovah's backing comes from his survival of 7 heart attacks and two strokes.

Fyans continued his rant, claiming that he's still alive because "Jehovah wanted me to be here" despite threats he has received in prison to cut his throat. He further stated he would win his appeal, then will sue his last attorney for giving him his 7th heart attack. 

Fyans resumed his tirade, claiming that the attorney he fired just minutes after his guilty verdict in September "has mental problems" and that he has early Alzheimer's disease, and failed to properly defend him.

At 10.25 AM, Judge Nelson took a recess to decide on Fyans' fate. When he returned, Nelson told the court that mitigating circumstances would not outweigh the aggravating occurrences of this case, and he promptly imposed the maximum sentence on Fyans.

I am very pleased to say that the documents uncovered from multiple congregations have led to the kind of justice that Jehovah's Witnesses have been obstructing for decades because of their harmful internal policies.

The criminal prosecution of Fyans is just the beginning for these brave survivors, who may now seek justice in civil courts.

Investigators continue to probe the other perpetrators of these crimes, and more victims continue to reach out.

What are the Palmer Leaks?

The Palmer Leaks is a throve of documents recovered from a Kingdom Hall in Massachusetts. The Kingdom Hall was used by the Palmer Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Hence, the name "Palmer Leaks".

According to the 2018 article “Secret Documents Reveal Sex Abuse Scandal in Jehovah's Witnesses Church” published by newsweek.com,

the Palmer Leaks “expose a series of sexual abuse accusations against a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses church and the efforts the church made to cover up the scandal and keep it from the "worldly court of law."

The documents, written between 1999 and 2012, are communications between church leaders and the church's legal entities, a group referred to collectively as Watchtower. They detail accusations of sexual abuse from three separate accusers”

The Palmer Leaks also revealing telling details that church leaders pressured one of the victims “not to report the abuse to secular law enforcement officials.”

The Palmer Leaks has since been turned over to law enforcement officials and has been very instrumental in convicting members of the Jehovah's Witness community who have committed serious crimes against minors.

Editor's Comments

If you belonged to the Palmer Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses or attended another congregation that used their Massachusetts Kingdom Hall during the period 1999 and 2012 or thereabout; and were a victim of child sexual abuse, please make a police report as soon as possible. Mark O'Donnell can provide you with additional directions in this matter. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

It should be noted that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has mandatory reporting laws. Title XVII: PUBLIC WELFARE, Chapter 119, Section 21 states:

''Mandated reporter'', a person who is….(iv) a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, person performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body that are recognized as the duties of a priest, rabbi, clergy, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, or person employed by a church or religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a regular basis….

The fact that church leaders of the Jehovah’s Witness community documented a criminal offense but willfully chose not to report it to the police is deeply troubling. Equally unsettling is the audacity of these same church leaders, who have been actively engaging in door-to-door preaching of the "good news of God’s Kingdom" to their neighbors for the past 25 years or more.

If my records are correct, this is the 2nd highest prison term handed to a Jehovah’s Witness elder, not for practicing his religious beliefs, but for serious crimes of child sexual abuse. Roderick Watkins holds the longest prison term of 80 years for the same crime. His conviction was upheld in November 2020 by the Arkansas Court Of Appeals.

Given the fact that these crimes of child sexual abuse occurred at least 25 years ago and absence of any evidence that no adult with knowledge of these offences, including the victim’s parents, made a police report during this time period, this conviction raises serious concerns about the:

  • ability of Jehovah’s Witness parents to protect the welfare of their children;
  • ability of Jehovah’s Witness parents to reliably discharge their legal duties in reporting to law enforcement officials crimes of child sexual abuse
  • ability of Jehovah’s Witness parents to protect children in the wider community from pedophiles 
  • religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses that prevented these parents from exercising their right to make a police report regarding crimes of child sexual abuse, against their child.
  • religious beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses that prevented other adults with knowledge of the offenses, from exercising their right to make a police report regarding crimes of child sexual abuse, against their child in their congregation.

This criminal conviction also raises more question than answers:

  • What action did the victim's parents take when they learned that their child was raped by this grown man?? 
  • Did they also conceal a crime??

I hope that any follow-up civil litigation by the victims/survivors provide answers to these and many more questions. We can rest assured that this monster under children’s bed, will now spend the rest of his life “preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom where the need is great” behind prison walls.

In the meantime, justice has been served!!!

Picture of Lester Somrah
Lester Somrah

Lester Somrah writes about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his social media platforms and was baptized as a member in 1998.

Read more from Lester