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Witnesses say pastor cited in sex
crimes Judge rejects bond for minister charged in `brutal'
BYLINE: Gayle White Staff Writer, STAFF
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta
SECTION: LOCAL NEWS
|The Rev. Rance Wellborn,
the Roswell minister accused of a murder
prosecutors suspect is homosexually related, had been arrested twice
in the past for sex crimes, but charges were dropped in both cases,
witnesses testified Thursday. |
In one of the previous cases,
the alleged sexual molestation of a teenage girl,
authorities dropped the charge after pressure from influential
members of Wellborn's church, witnesses said. The other charge
involved an alleged act of sodomy in a Roswell department store.
After a six-hour hearing, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge
Daniel M. Coursey Jr. denied bond for Wellborn, 53, accused of
murder in the May 13 stabbing death of Lawrence F. Burmeister, 46.
In a courtroom packed with members of Wellborn's
congregation and family, including his wife and grown daughter, a K
mart security manager testified that he arrested Wellborn and
another man last year after he caught them engaging in sodomy in the
Bert V. Nouhuys, security manager of the K mart
store on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell, said K mart officials
decided not to prosecute the men, but issued a warning to them to
stay out of K mart stores or risk prosecution.
attorneys, in cross-examination of Nouhuys, noted that the incident
had been investigated by a commission from the United Methodist
Church, including the use of polygraph tests, and no action was
taken against Wellborn.
In the other incident, a 24-year-old
woman testified that Wellborn had fondled her after pushing his way
into the bathroom while visiting her home in 1978, when she was a
A Cherokee County deputy sheriff, called by the
girl's family to their home after the incident, testified that
Wellborn drew a .22-caliber revolver on him when he attempted to
make an arrest. Retired Detective Sgt. Bob Duncan said Wellborn told
him he had been at the house "to counsel the young folks."
Duncan told the judge that then-Sheriff Newt E. Adams
ordered charges dropped "after he was approached by certain
influential people in Cherokee County" who were members of
Wellborn's church at the time.
"I was ordered to drop the
charges, and I enjoyed my job, sir, so I did what I was told,"
Prosecutors introduced a "diversion agreement"
from the incident in which Wellborn agreed to seek counseling.
Wearing a navy blue jail uniform, Wellborn sat quietly
throughout the hearing, at one point taking off his glasses to wipe
his eyes after a courtroom description of the wounds inflicted on
About 10 character witnesses, including fellow
United Methodist ministers and members of his
congregation, appeared to testify on Wellborn's behalf.
Linda Winkler, who once worked as Wellborn's secretary,
described him as "a very kind, gentle, wonderful person."
But District Attorney Bob Wilson told the judge that
Wellborn's colleagues and congregation saw the image Wellborn
"He is not lily white as he would have these honest
people who came to testify for him believe," Wilson said. "The past
he has obviously intended to keep under wraps has surfaced today."
Wilson told the judge that Wellborn's release would pose a
danger to others. "When a rat is caught in a trap, he is at his most
dangerous," Wilson said. "When he's backed into a corner, he's most
likely to bite."
"This was a brutal and savage murder,"
Chief Assistant District Attorney Bob Morton told the judge. "It was
one by a very, very cruel person."
Defense attorney Joe M.
Salome argued that Wellborn - approximately 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds
- is too small to have killed Burmeister, described as 6-foot-2 and
Salome also asked the judge to discard testimony
about Wellborn's alleged involvement in the homosexual incident.
"Whether or not the Rev. Wellborn has sexual proclivities we
don't all lean to or approve of is not the issue," Salome said. He
said his client was not admitting any such proclivities, "but we
want to deal with it."
Salome said the issues to be decided
were whether Wellborn would pose a risk if released. "I ask this
court to set a reasonable bond," Salome said. "I assure you he will
be here to stand trial."
In denying bond, Coursey said,
"There is probably no group for whom this court has more respect
than ministers. But based on the
evidence this court has heard today - particularly evidence of other
alleged offenses - I'm going to deny the bond."
the hearing, DeKalb County Detective Charles E. Buis testified that
he had evidence that Burmeister was homosexual. Pornographic
magazines, several showing nude males, and sexual paraphernalia were
found in a nightstand in the bedroom where Burmeister died,
according to testimony.
DeKalb Medical Examiner Dr. Joseph
Burton testified that Burmeister bled to death from about 30 major
knife wounds in his upper torso and upper extremities. Many other
superficial wounds were also present, Burton said.
random knife wounds, he said, Burmeister's killer methodically
slashed both wrists, inflicted deep chopping wounds more than 4
inches long to the back of the head, and almost severed a thumb.
Burton said Burmeister probably died very quickly after a stab wound
in his heart.
The number and severity of wounds were a case
of "overkill" that suggests "torturing or punishment," and the
intensity of the attack seemed to indicate an emotional bond between
the victim and his killer, Burton said.
"In most cases like
this, you have a strong emotional overlap between the victim and the
perpetrator," Burton said. "Certainly, there was some emotional
Wellborn was identified as a suspect in the case
after witnesses saw his car leaving Burmeister's home about the time
of the murder, police said.
He surrendered several days
later and told police that he had been at Burmeister's house on the
afternoon of May 13. But Wellborn said he had been attacked by an
unidentified assailant, he found Burmeister wounded but alive inside
the house, and he claimed he left after Burmeister urged him not to
"get involved," Buis testified.
Salome said Wellborn's
actions were more consistent with someone who had been stunned by
walking into an attack than with someone who had committed a crime.
But Morton called Wellborn's story "a preposterous statement
given by a despe rate man." He added that Wellborn's story conflicts
with those of other witnesses and the physical evidence.
Burton testified that injuries on Wellborn's hands seemed to
be inconsistent with being slashed at by a knife-wielding attacker.
Buis, in his testimony, said there was no indication of a
struggle in the kitchen and dining room area inside the house to
confirm the story Wellborn told.
Buis also said Wellborn
told detectives that he approached neighbors, trying to alert them
to the attack against Burmeister.
But William F. Owens, one
of the neighbors, testified that as he and his wife were pulling out
of their driveway about 1:45 p.m. on May 13, they saw a red Buick
later found to belong to Wellborn speed off as though to avoid them.
Notes: Photo: DeKalb deputies escort the Rev. Rance Wellborn
during break in bond hearing/Steve Deal The last paragraph did not
appear in the final edition.