For months, George P. Lee emphatically maintained his innocence, warning that God will punish those accusing him of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl.
Tuesday, the former LDS general authority pleaded guilty.Lee was scheduled to stand trial Tuesday on a charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. Instead, he accepted a plea bargain allowing him to plead guilty to a reduced charge of attempted sexual abuse of a child, a third-degree felony.
Third District Judge Kenneth Rigtrup sentenced him to 18 months probation.
Lee apologized to the now 17-year-old girl, who had known him as "Brother Lee," and to her family.
"I want to say, your honor, that I'm very sorry," he said. "I'm sorry for whatever difficult times that I've put them through."
The 51-year-old Lee later promised, "None of this will ever happen
again." When he was still a general authority of the LDS Church, Lee went to the top of the mountains and told God he had fallen in love with a 12-year-old girl, the girl testified in December.
"I was confused about him speaking to the Lord and the Lord saying it was OK," the teen testified.
She said that "Brother Lee," a former neighbor, sexually abused her from the time she was 9 years old. She sometimes accompanied Lee's family when they traveled to conferences while he served as a member of the First Quorum of the
Seventy. After the first abuse, "He told me that I shouldn't tell anyone because the Lord had told him to do it and it should just remain between the Lord and him and me," she said.
"I thought it was what I was supposed to do."
The girl told her parents about the incidents of abuse in 1992 after she had a dream about Lee chasing her through a forest. After prosecutors filed the charge in 1993, Lee warned that the allegations would set a chain of events in motion that would bring the wrath of God against the Gentile
nations. He also warned, "The perpetrators or those who are doing this to me and my Indian people will be dealt with and be punished by God. . . . They cannot get away with this."
In 1989, Lee became the first general authority in 46 years to be excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A spokesman said he was excommunicated for apostasy and conduct unbecoming a member of the church.
In addition to probation, the judge also fined Lee $1,850 and said he could work off $500 of that fine through community service at $5 an hour.
Rigtrup also sentenced Lee to enter a sex-offender therapy program and ordered him to have no contact with the victim or any contact with any girl under 16.
Rigtrup also ordered Lee to write the victim a letter, taking full responsibility for his actions. "You bear no burden, and nothing is your fault," the judge told the girl.
Defense attorney Ron Yengich asked to have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Rigtrup refused but could consider the motion again after Lee completes probation.
Assistant Salt Lake County Attorney Greg Skordas said the victim and her family were "ex-tremely happy" with the plea bargain. "She (the victim) wanted an admission of the conduct and for him to get help," he said.
"We wouldn't have even offered if they hadn't agreed."
Ironically, Lee may have recently passed a polygraph test. Last week, Yengich filed a motion to have a polygraph test admitted as evidence in the trial, and prosecutors fought that motion.
Rigtrup sealed the results of the test but had not ruled on its
admissibility. Both Yengich and Lee declined comment Tuesday, but Yengich issued a press release stating, "Effectuating closure to this matter will allow the victim and Dr. Lee's family to heal and will allow him to continue to seek the counseling he has sought in the past."
The statement also says that Lee maintains the support of his family and friends, who continue to stand by him.
Lee, who lives in Arizona, asked that he be allowed to serve his probation