LAWYER CLEARED OF MOLESTING BLIND GIRL; PROSECUTOR DROPS CHARGES AND THE 'NIGHTMARE' ENDS

Date: 1989-06-17

Author: Arthur C. Gorlick P-I Reporter

Attorney Theadore E. ''Ted'' Ripley, nationally recognized for adopting children from Asia and Central America, yesterday was cleared of charges that he sexually molested a blind 12-year-old Guatemalan girl living in his home.

Ripley, 46 ((age)), who had been charged in February with second-degree rape of the girl, tearfully hugged his wife, Merrily, and several of their adopted children in a hallway outside the courtroom after the ruling.

''It was a nightmare,'' he said. ''It was just so incredible. The problem is that because of the nature of the charges - they are such emotional charges - that people were not willing to wait until the evidence was heard.''

Ripley made the comments moments after Judge Pro Tem Hardyn Soule in Clallam County Superior Court hesitantly granted a motion by Prosecuting Attorney David Bruneau to dismiss Ripley's case.

Soule pointedly crossed out language in the order prepared earlier by Bruneau that said ''that the ends of justice do not warrant further proceedings.''

''I do not make a finding that the ends of justice do not warrant further proceedings,'' said Soule, a retired Pierce County Superior and state appellate court judge now living in Clallam County.

''I have the pretty strong belief that if it went to a jury, the prosecuting attorney would have no reason to apologize,'' Soule said.

Dismissal of the charge ''is your responsibility'' he told Bruneau, adding that he would not play a part in ''sweeping it under a rug.'' He later apologized for ''overstating'' the situation.

Instead, he changed the order to read that charges were dismissed because ''the prosecuting attorney does not feel satisfied, because of information in his file,'' to continue with the case.

''I certainly do not wish to foist on someone else a responsibility that is entirely mine,'' Bruneau said in accepting the judge's changes.

Ripley's attorney, David V. Johnson, was similarly rebuffed by the judge when he asked for a private meeting so Bruneau could present the information that Johnson said led to the decision to drop the charges.

The case ''is entirely too volatile a subject'' to discuss in secret, Soule said.

''This court doesn't operate that way.''

Earlier, Bruneau indicated to Soule that the reason for his decision to drop charges had to do with consideration for the girl.

The girl had told authorities that Ripley forced her to perform sex acts 10 to 15 times before January 1988.

Bruneau told Soule that the girl is remarkably bright and ''in all respects a model child'' and said ''credibility would be attached'' to her testimony.

However, he said, he preferred ''not to elaborate further out of respect for privacy'' of all involved, especially the girl.

Soule said that he understood ''a basic tactic'' in this type of case ''is to try the victim,'' but that he did not feel that was sufficient reason to bring the case to a halt.

Before the hearing, Bruneau said that his ''office will not pursue the case against Ted Ripley further,'' but will continue plans to prosecute the Ripleys' German-born adopted son, Kori, 31 ((age)).

Kori, a former reserve Clallam County Sheriff's deputy, is scheduled to go on trial Sept. 11 on charges of sexually assaulting the same girl in 1984.

His attorney, Christopher O. Shea of Sequim, has entered a plea of not guilty on his client's behalf.

A male juvenile living in the home was found guilty last July of sexually assaulting the girl and served nearly six months in a juvenile detention facility.

A court document refers to statements from three other minor girls and a boy who have lived in the Ripley home and who indicated they were victims of sexual abuse by other children in the household.

Bruneau said in the document that ''such disclosure by multiple victims and multiple abusers shows a pattern of wanton sexual activity within the residence.''

Bruneau's request to have charges against Ripley dropped does not address the allegation.

Ted and Merrily Ripley, who have operated a Port Angeles adoption agency in offices behind the family home, have received national recognition for adopting 18 children and raising them with their three natural children.

Ted Ripley, who, on the advice of his attorney, has made no statement since the charges were filed, said after the hearing that he was relieved that his ordeal was largely over.

The family's adoption agency has been operating under a cloud since the charges were filed.

The state's Department of Social and Health Services has held the agency's license in limbo pending the outcome of the criminal charges against Ripley, a member of the adoption agency's board and its registered agent.

Wiping tears from his eyes, Ripley said he was disappointed that the case did not go to trial so that he could have had the opportunity to prove that ''there was no basis for the charges'' against him.

He described the girl's allegations against him as ''a cry for help.''

His life has been in turmoil since the charges were filed, he said.

''I received on my office tape recorder crank telephone calls,'' he said. ''I have had clients who chose to go to other attorneys. Some of the damage done is irreparable.

''The people who know us and know of us, know that Merrily and I have devoted our lives to the well being of the children.''

''They (the charges) just didn't fit and I believe that child abuse and sex abuse certainly'' are tragic experiences for children.

''But I wasn't aware of the effect on a person like me of the power and force of the authorities that have the responsibility for preserving those kinds of children,'' he said.

He said he has ''questions about how the Department of Social and Health Services handled this case and some other cases with which I have become familiar.''

Out of court, Bruneau said he was ''not happy with the outcome.''

''I don't like to put people through this for nothing - not the foster mother, not the alleged victim, not the accused, not the court and not the community,'' he said.

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