Priest molestation trial delayed after Chronicle photographer assaulted

By Kim Curtis, The Associated Press
Thursday April 11, 2002

SANTA ROSA — A judge delayed closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of a priest accused of rape and lewd conduct so she could question jurors about their knowledge of an incident in which the priest allegedly assaulted a newspaper photographer. 

The Rev. Don Kimball was arrested Tuesday for allegedly striking the photographer in the face outside the courtroom. That led a defense attorney to seek a mistrial in the rape case, which had been set for closing arguments Wednesday afternoon. 

Kimball, 58, is on trial for allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl behind the altar of a Santa Rosa chapel in 1977 and molesting a 13-year-old girl in 1981 at St. John’s Rectory in Healdsburg. He faces more than eight years in prison if convicted. 

Kimball was jailed Tuesday and released hours later after posting $30,000 bail. He allegedly shoved the camera into the face of San Francisco Chronicle photographer Penni Gladstone. The former youth pastor is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday for the alleged assault. 

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Gayle Guynup, who on Wednesday morning dismissed an unrelated motion for a mistrial involving the testimony of a witness, was expected to poll jurors Wednesday afternoon in a hearing regarding a second mistrial motion filed by Kimball’s attorney. 

The attorney, Chris Andrian, said Guynup would question jurors about how much they heard or saw about Tuesday’s incident. 

Gladstone was waiting in the hallway Tuesday to snap Kimball’s picture as he left for lunch recess. Cameras were not permitted in the courtroom. 

“He just came at me with his fist,” she said. “I saw the whole thing happening through the camera.” 

He then allegedly grabbed the camera and threw it, hitting reporter Clark Mason of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, said Press Democrat managing editor Bob Swofford. 

“He was walking up behind Kimball when this happened,” Swofford said. ”(Kimball) grabbed the camera off the photographer and threw it to the side. Clark happened to be in the line of fire.” 

Gladstone went to the hospital for X-rays and a tetanus shot after suffering a cut under her right eye. She said she was bruised, but nothing was broken except her glasses. Mason was not injured. 

“I’ve been in some rough situations,” Gladstone said. “Last year in Guatemala we were carrying machetes around, and then you get decked by a priest.” 

Chronicle executive editor Phil Bronstein said the incident was upsetting, but it’s also one of the hazards associated with working as a journalist. He said there were no immediate plans to take legal action. 

“It was ugly. I think we’re dealing with people who are clearly pretty volatile,” Bronstein said. “Our main concern is Penni.” 

Gladstone’s camera was not broken, and she was able to salvage some pictures. 

More than a dozen people witnessed the incident and called out for help before authorities restrained Kimball. He was taken to the Sonoma County Jail. 

Kimball no longer performs priestly duties, but has not been defrocked. He denies all charges and said his only sexual involvement was with women who were older than 18, according to Andrian.