At family's request, judge sends 'beastly' Heber charity founder to prison for abuse
HEBER CITY — Whatever else he may have been, whatever good deeds have been attributed to him, it was clear Wednesday what Lon Kennard Sr.'s family thinks he is.
"Monster." "Predator." "A disgusting man." "A beastly person."
"You've ruined memories, cursed lives and broken dreams," one adopted daughter told the man.
"He brought these sweet, innocent girls here under the guise of charity and turned them into personal sex slaves," a biological son told 4th District Judge Derek Pullan.
Family member after family member — some sobbing, others defiant — stood before Pullan and demanded that Kennard, 70, receive the maximum punishment — consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison for three counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony.
And Pullan, after deliberating for nearly an hour in his chambers, delivered the desired sentence, chastising Kennard for going after victims who were "especially vulnerable."
"You were their father and spiritual leader and you groomed them to fulfill your desires," Pullan said, adding that Kennard also told the girls the behavior was normal. "You forced children to carry crushing burdens of guilt and shame not of their making."
The courtroom was packed with friends and family members — most of them now estranged from Kennard — as prosecutor Tricia Lake and Kennard's victims detailed the abuse. They described how Kennard would wake them by rubbing their bodies with lotions and oils, how he had to be "persuaded" with kisses and touching just so the girls could go to soccer practices, how bedroom and bathroom doors were to remain unlocked.
"They were made to believe that if they felt uncomfortable, they were the ones who were perverted," Lake said, reciting Kennard's response to the girls' questions or doubt: "Don't be silly. I'm your dad."
The girls would try to wake up early or layer on their clothes to avoid Kennard's touching, which often preceded the family's prayers, Lake said. One adopted daughter detailed how alone and confused she felt and how she felt Kennard targeted "children desperate for love and hungry for food."
"I was your sex toy, not your daughter," she said. "You never wanted me as a daughter. ... I know I will never know what normal feels like. ... You were getting pleasure from my pain."
Kennard kept his head lowered as his wife and two of his biological children first addressed the judge and recounted lives of fear and emotional and physical abuse.
"This is a man who once had everything," his wife, DeAnna, said. "His disgusting desires and selfish choices have destroyed his life as well as so many others."
She questioned why he was allowed to plead guilty to fewer charges than he had victims. Kennard was originally charged with 47 counts — including 24 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony; 17 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, a second-degree felony; forcible sex abuse, a second-degree felony; and witness tampering, a third-degree felony.
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop all other charges. The child victims in the case are now adults. Court records indicate Kennard abused six girls related to him and a seventh victim — an Ethiopian 14-year-old — and made videos of the abuse. The abuse of the 14-year-old occurred in Africa.
Prosecutors say the sexual abuse began in 1995, around the time Kennard was serving as bishop of his LDS Church ward and one year after he and his wife founded Village of Hope. The nonprofit organization provides services to destitute villages in Mexico, Central America, Ethiopia and the Caribbean.
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