Teenager testifies of abuse by pastor
By ERIN MATHEWS
A teenage girl testified in Saline County District Court Wednesday that she could no longer keep secret about being sexually abused by a Salina pastor, although she said he threatened to have her killed.
The girl spoke quietly, sometimes shaking visibly, as she answered questions from attorneys about how Birger Draget, 54, allegedly had abused her on multiple occasions since 2006.
"I was trying to have a relationship with God, and I felt cut off from God at the same time because of the abuse," she said.
The girl said the incidents had taken an emotional toll on her, and she told Draget this summer that she couldn't pretend to be a happy person anymore. She said she had kept the secret from family members and close friends for years before finally speaking to a school official and then a police officer this summer.
"I couldn't keep it (secret) anymore," she said. "I couldn't handle it. I felt like I was going to explode."
Draget had acted as pastor of Seventh Day Adventist churches in Salina, Junction City, Manhattan and Enterprise until he was placed on administrative leave after his Oct. 6 arrest.
During his preliminary hearing Wednesday, he listened to the girl's testimony from the defense table, sometimes shaking his head, occasionally crying or bowing his head.
Charges to be amended
Following about an hour and a half of testimony, prosecutor Christina Trocheck, an assistant county attorney, said she needed to amend the 21 charges against Draget to make them consistent with the girl's testimony.
She said she intends to add two counts of criminal threat and make additional adjustments and would present the revised charges at Draget's arraignment, set for 1:30 p.m. Jan. 9.
Because the charges are to be amended, Judge Jerome Hellmer made no ruling on whether Draget should be bound over for trial, although he described the girl's testimony as compelling.
Judge lowers man's bond
Hellmer granted a motion to reduce Draget's bond, which had been set at $500,000. Hellmer said although the charges against Draget are serious and several carry life sentences, the case has yet to be proved and Draget is presumed innocent.
He set the bond at $200,000, with the requirements that Draget forfeit his passport, have no contact with minors except his son and be subject to electronic monitoring.
Wichita attorney Roger Falk, who represents Draget, told the judge he was aware that Draget would likely be bound over on some charges, although he did not believe the testimony was sufficient to support all 21 counts of rape, aggravated criminal sodomy and aggravated indecent liberties with a child initially brought against Draget.
Falk argued for bond reduction, saying he had collected a number of letters from church members, family and friends that "attest to the virtues of this gentleman."
"In short, your honor, this is a 50-something-year-old man who has never been charged with anything as serious as spitting on the sidewalk before in his life," Falk said.
No motive to fabricate
Trocheck countered that the girl's testimony illustrated a "pattern of conduct" that would be a threat to the community. She encouraged Hellmer to leave the bond at $500,000.
"The state submits her testimony is absolutely compelling," she said. She said the girl has no motive to fabricate a story and must be telling the truth.
The girl said Draget usually did not say anything before he started touching her, but on two occasions he had told her "don't be stupid and don't say anything because he'd find someone to kill me."
"How did that make you feel when he said that?" Trocheck asked.
"Like there was no way out," she said.
She suffered a head injury
Falk questioned the girl about a head injury she sustained about a year ago when she fell off a horse. The girl said she suffered a concussion and had had fainting spells, panic attacks and trouble with blurred vision and hyperventilating.
She said she had more difficulty handling "the stress of living in fear and feeling cut off from God" after the injury.
-- Reporter Erin Mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.