Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Testimony: Accuser's photo, pornography among items found in priest's home

By Lance Benzel Published: June 28, 2013

On a curio table in a Colorado Springs priest's rectory sat a framed picture of the boy he is now accused of molesting, smartly dressed in a crisp uniform worn for one of his extracurricular activities.

It was among images found during a police sweep of the Rev. Charles Robert "Bob" Manning's home that captured detectives' attention.

A Colorado Springs police investigator testifying Friday at the now-retired priest's ongoing sexual assault trial said a computer removed from Manning's home contained a picture of "a younger male" with his shorts and underwear pulled down and his penis exposed. According to detective Nicholas Kundert, who described the image, the shot appeared to have been taken from inside Manning's rectory.

Manning, 78, formerly the pastor at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in Colorado Springs, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he used booze, pot and gifts to coerce sex from a then-15-year-old altar boy.

The elderly clergyman also is charged with sexual exploitation of children, a child pornography offense.

Two computers, a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, and other items relating to the allegations were seized by police in January 2012. Whether the lewd image was confirmed to be that of the accuser wasn't addressed during Friday's testimony.

Two other photos found by police on a computer in Manning's home showed the boy shirtless and sporting new nipple piercings he obtained in Manning's company.

Although attorneys for Manning scarcely acknowledged the photo depicting genitalia during Friday's testimony, they made a point earlier in the trial of emphasizing that the accuser, who witnesses say was a frequent visitor to Manning's home, had access to Manning's computer passwords.

As prosecutors pressed ahead in the fourth day of their case against Manning, his attorneys worked to move the focus away from their client, and keep it instead on questions of his accuser's credibility.

During cross examination of the lead police detective Terry Thrumston, attorney Richard Bednarski hammered away at discrepancies in the boy's accounts of the alleged abuse, pointing out problems with chronology, inconsistent descriptions and particulars that seemed to change with each retelling of what he says happened. Many of those discrepancies involve individual sex acts too graphic to describe.

Prosecutors countered Friday by reminding the jury of allegations that remained consistent, such as the boy's early claim that he traded sex with Manning for roughly $100 in $5 denominations while intoxicated.

The boy, who took the stand Monday on the opening day of testimony, has given various descriptions of the sequence of events that led to the sex, though all involved allegations that he was given booze, asked to dance in black underwear, and ultimately coaxed into some form of sexual activity.

Prosecutors also called to the stand Gayle Christensen, a Colorado Springs therapist who has treated sex offenders and their victims for 33 years.

Christensen told jurors it is common for children's descriptions of sex abuse to change over time.

He cited a variety of factors in explaining the phenomenon, from an accuser's comfort level with their interviewer, to feelings of guilt and shame that cause a child to minimize or even omit some acts.

"You're also aware that teenagers falsely accuse people of sexual assault?" Bednarski asked.

"I've seen that in rare cases," Christensen answered. "It does happen."

Prosecutors have painted a picture of Manning as a predator who took advantage of a boy who came to him expressing an interest in Catholicism. Defense attorneys say the boy is lodging false allegations against Manning, twisting his grandfatherly attentions into something "sinister" and "evil."

Testimony is expected to continue at 9 a.m. Monday.

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