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tv   Nightline  ABC  June 29, 2019 12:37am-1:07am PDT

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this is "nightline." tonight. >> it's my job to warn you. >> mothers on a mission, taking on their church to expose what they say is the truth of what happened to their children and could have been avoided. >> he hurt my children in a way that can never, never be changed. >> the accusations of sexual abuse that rocked the church of jesus christ of latter day saints, plus, the church responds in a battle that appears to be far from over. this special edition of "nightline" "broken faith" will be right back.
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"nightline," broken faith continues, here now, juju cha >> i keep telling myself i'm doing it for children, so. >> reporter: these two mothers are getting ready to take a stand, inside their former house of worship. >> he'd make my kids physically sick. my three youngest, they would
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get sick from going to church. >> reporter: this is the most posted last month on youtube. >> your children are not safe. >> reporter: alice and kelly trying to share their stories about the sexual abuse of their children with people they worshipped alongside for years. it's a warning some confra fwantss don't seem to want to hear. >> i think this is not the place to talk about it. i'd be happy to talk to you after. >> i believe -- ♪ >> keep talkin', alice. >> that is a song -- ♪ >> do not touch that. >> reporter: alice and kelly are part of a group of mothers on a crusade to shine the light on an impact of a sexual predator, michael jensen. >> he said, has anybody ever touched you in your private parts? and she said yes. i said who? and she said michael jensen.
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and i said okay. thank you for telling me, and we left her alone after that. >> reporter: 21 year old jensen was convicted while another mother's children, two boys. >> he took their innocence. >> reporter: the mothers say it was the way michael became their babysitter that ultimately shattered their faith in the church of jesus christ of latter day saints, commonly known as the mormon church which they once held sacred. >> i am the third generation. my children would be the fourth generations of the church. >> i have children who have nightmares every night and want to sleep in my room to feel safe. >> reporter: so the moms decided to sue the church, local abusers and the family, alleging that
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they had failed to warn or protect them from a sexual predator. the church says michael's actions were horrific and insists that as soon as officials learned of the abuse, they encouraged the parents to report it to police. what has this done to your faith? in the church? >> it's not taken faith from me as far as my faith in god. but definitely in this organization. >> reporter: in 2005, the jensen family moved away from the church's home state of utah, eventually settling in the local martinsburg area known as a ward. >> you have a bishop. there's much an assumption that the bishop is acting under god. >> he is the one you would go to if you had any personal problems in your purge life ersonal live
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church family. >> reporter: the jensens quickly made a name for themselves. >> how would you characterize how influential they are. >> very, very influential, and they presented themselves that way also. >> reporter: michael's father volunteers as a high priest. michael's mother was president of the relief society, one of the highest female positions in the ward. it provides support for local families. >> many, many bishops would consult with their president when making decisions on behalf of the ward or congragations. >> reporter: spring says in 2007 her marriage was in trouble. >>ly gone to i had gone to the bishop. he asked if he could share my information. and said if you ever want to get away, michael's available to babysit. >> reporter: but spring says there was something about michael sandra lee did not tell her. michae arrested for
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allegedly globing two girls under 14. he also admitted to two counts of misdemeanor lewdness with children, placed on probation and ordered by the court to attend sexual appropriateness class. did you have any idea he had prior allegation of sexual assault? >> i had no idea. i trusted her judgment. >> reporter: spring says she asked michael to babysit. when she returned home that night, her sons and the babysitter seemed fine. >> he made the comment of your boys are really cool. >> reporter: what spring didn't know was that something horrific had happened that night. but, like so many victims of sexual abuse, it took years for them to come forward. and, in that time, michael kept babysitting children of the ward, including, in 2008, helen's two sons. >> sandra lee told me she had heard i was looking for a babysitter and that michael
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inse jensen, her son, would be able to do it. >> reporter: sandra lee and michael watched their boys several times until. >> i was going to put my son on the bus. he asked if he was going to michael's house today, and i said yes, and he just was crying. he doesn't want to go over there, michael's mean, and i just said to him, i said how is he mean? and he goes, mommy, he makes me suck his privates. and it was just that, what did you just say to me? >> reporter: helen says she confronted sandra lee. >> i told her what my son said, and she just sort of looks at me. she's not surprised. she's not in denial. just sort of stoic and says i'll talk to michael about it and get back to you. >> reporter: in court testimony, sandra lee says helen complained about michael's babysitting and mentioned sex abuse, but nothing specific. she says michael told her the boys merely walked in on him going to the bathroom.
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helen testified that she and her husband met with bishop don fishel. >> i told him what he had said about michael jensen, what he made him do. >> reporter: she also testified that when she followed up later with the bishop, he told her nothing like that happened. >> he thinks that my son walked in on a video that michael was watching. and that he was counseling michael on pornography. and he says to me, michael jensen is a good kid from a good family. >> reporter: bishop fishel testified that he never had any of those conversations with helen. instead, in a statement to abc news, fishel said helen's husband came to him alone to say his sons were acting strange after jensen babysat them. fishel says there was no mention of physical or sexual abuse. but, in court testimony, helen's now ex-husbandeth wit bishop fishel and that they did
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tell him of their children's claims of sexual assault. bishop fishel would testify that michael told him the children walked in on him when he was viewing pornography. he added he had been fooled by michael as we now know what really happened. >> my sons' word against michael jensen's word, and not even my bishop, my relief society president, none of these people are supporting me. the only thing i could think of for my son was i don't want to go to the police because i have to put him through this questioning. >> reporter: the very next we're it was sandra lee explaining her son's behavior to another bishop, writing in an e-mail that she was really concerned about michael and asking to find someone to take him in, because we cannot risk our other children. >> she intimated that she was worried about her other children. >> absolutely. >> reporter: sandra lee would say in testimony that the risk
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she was referring to was michael's bad attitude and behavior, making him a poor role model. the following year, his mother and father would both later testify they kicked michael out of their home, after his his 12-year-old sister accused him of lying on top of her and kissing her. >> as any mother would, she wanted to protect her children but didn't protect the other children of the ward. >> reporter: meanwhile, michael continued living with other ward families, continuing to advance normally in the church, ordained as an elder and selected for a mission. but in january 2012, spring's sons finally revealed to her what michael had done to them years earlier. >> my son said i don't ever want michael to babysit for us again. i said of course not. can you tell me why you don't want him to babysit for you again? and he disclosed the details of what michael had forced him and his brother to do that night. it was completely devastating and so gut-wrenching, because no
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mother wants something like that to happen to their children. >> reporter: when whee coe come a mother's quest for the truth and a trial that would rock the church of jesus christ of latter day saints. stay with us. utomobile, but mobility itself. an autonomous-thinking vehicle protecting those inside and out. and it's the mercedes-benz of today that will help us get there. church of jesus christ of latter that will change the way we drive from this day forward. visit your local mercedes-benz dealer for exceptional lease and financing offers. mercedes-benz. the best or nothing. has me feeling super healthy. my new beneful superfood blend with salmon, cranberries... ...oh, but we are not done yet! here comes superfood wet with beef, salmon, and pumpkin. it's like a superfood sundae. on a monday. (avo) new beneful superfood blend dry and wet recipes.
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"nightline," broken faith continues. here again, juju chang. spring, a devout member of the church of jesus christ of latter day saints had just been told a horrible secret by her
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sons, that they'd been abused by michael jensen when he babysat them in 2007. spring says that michael was recommended to her by a prominent member of the church. his mother, sandra lee. distraught, spring reached out to a family friend who was also a church counseling. according to church officials, this is the first time the church was aware jensen had sexually abused a child. >> so i explained to him what my boys had told me. he said i should contact the state police. >> reporter: spring made contact with west virginia state trooper, >> initially, there was just two victims. my gut told me there were probably more. >> reporter: the corporal testified he called sandra lee and a different bishop, trying to locate michael, who was away
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on a religious mission in arizona. >> i wanted him sent back as quickly as i could. >> reporter: sandra lee and local church officials later testified they didn't know why michael was under investigation. his mother and a bishop also testified that after michael did return home from his mission there was a meeting on februa february 25th where they were instructed not to discuss the case with anyone. the church denied to abc news such a meeting ever occurred. and while sandra says she called the police department saying michael had returned home, the corporal says he never got a message from her or any church official. it wasn't until spring told him on march 4 that he k >> i wasing that returned home march. they weren't all that cooperative. >> reporter: two days later,
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eshbaugh filed a petition with the prosecutors's office seeking jensen's arrest. and in march, he served papers to michael and drove him to a preliminary hearing. the next month, the corporal heard from another mother, helen. now it's 2012. she reported her claims in 2018, s situat 2008, to a bishop. >> it was no longer my son's word against michael jensen's word. obviously, michael has a problem that he's continuing to abuse children. he had to be stopped. so i contacted the state trooper that was investigating the other allegation against michael. >> reporter: that october michael was indicted as an adult and charged with sexual abuse and sexual assault of spring's sons. thanks in part to the testimonies of spring and helen's children, michael jensen was convicted. and nine months later sentenced
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to 35 to 75 years in prison. that same year he was excommunicated by the church. >> i need my children to see that there are consequences to what has happened to them. i was extremely grateful the jury had that verdict. but at the same time, i still felt hollow and, it's such a hard thing to try to heal from. >> reporter: it was in the midst of the criminal trial that kelly and alice came forward. alice says her daughter was abused by jensen before he went away on a mission. two months after jensen's criminal trial, these women and two other families filed their lawsuit. >> our goal was to make sure that the church understood what mike jensen had done to these children, because their lives were taken. their innocence was lost. >> reporter: kelly testified that her 3-year-old son was abused by michael shortly before michael's mother alerted a
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bishop in that e-mail that he was a risk to his siblings. >> sandra lee would pawn michael off on a member's children. >> reporter: kelly submitted in court this 2014 video of her son. she calls it aaaaaaa >> i didn't leave him with you. it's not my fault. >> reporter: a lasting effect she believes, of jensen's abuse. >> they say it takes a village to raise a child. it also takes a village to abuse one. >> reporter: caroline and carl began representing the family. they believe all of this could have been avoided if the church had taken more seriously michael's record, two counts of
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misdemeanor lewdness with children. >> the predator was put in homes with access to young children, and from our perspective, the inevitable happened. >> reporter: the jensens did not respond to our interview requests. in spoons response to the 2005 incident, the court provided no one with any reason to believe that jensen might be a threat to much younger children. >> i think some of those crimes could have been prevented if people would have done their civic duty and reported to us what was going on. from my standpoint, you know, church officials don't conduct child abuse investigations. we do. >> reporter: the church settled the civil lawsuit last april, after a five-year legal battle, for an undisclosed amount, without any admission of wrongdoing. no church leaders were ever charged with failure to report child abuse. >> it has been how, it has been traumatic for all of us, for all
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of our children. we want to protect others. ♪ >> reporter: and, if this recent appearance in church by alice and kelly is any indication, it appears that this fight is far from over. >> the events, what happened to the children affected my life. it changed it drastically. it wasn't just this little blip in the radar that happened. it was a life-changing event that changed everything. changed everything for us. it's something that my children are going to have to live with for the rest of their life, that they're going to have to deal with. >> reporter: when we come back, the church responds. points toward things like complimentary maintenance. or for vehicle accessories. and with fordpass, a tap can also get you 24/7 roadside assistance. and lock your vehicle. only fordpass puts all this
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the church declined abc's multiple requestsn the record interview. they provide add st resn part, michael jensen is the sole individual responsible for the abuse and is in prison where he belongs and was never clergy or church employee. there have been allegation the church knew he was a danger and did nothing to stop him.
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these allegations are false, offensive and unstaubstantiated. they encouraged the parents to report to the west virginia police and confirmed the report.
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