KANSAS CITY — After several changes in trial dates for six men accused of molesting young relatives two decades ago in western Missouri, the 77-year-old family patriarch is now scheduled to have his day in court first.
Burrell Mohler Sr., of Independence, is facing 21 sex-related counts stemming from claims that he, his four sons and his brother raped at least three young relatives in the mid-1980s at a farm in Lafayette County. Investigators say six siblings have corroborated tales of incest, bestiality and sexual assault against the Mohlers.
Also facing multiple charges in the case are Mohler's sons, Roland, Jared, Burrell Jr. and David, and Mohler's brother, Darrel.
The trial for Jared Mohler, 49, of Columbia, who is facing three counts of rape, one count of sodomy and three counts of using a child in a sexual performance, was to have started in January in Lafayette County, but that was postponed last week until March.
That means Burrell Sr., who is scheduled for a Feb. 22 trial in Clay County on a change of venue, will be the first to have his case tried.
How his case goes — none of the others is facing nearly the same number of counts as Burrell Sr. — could have a big impact on the other cases.
"If the person facing the most charges, who the state has the strongest case against, goes first, and if he's convicted, that could cause the other defendants to be more interested in plea bargaining," said Rodney Uphoff, an MU professor who helped defend Terry Nichols in state court in Oklahoma after the Oklahoma City bombing. "Alternatively, if I'm a defense lawyer for one of the others, going second, third or fourth may be very desirable, from my standpoint."
Uphoff said even if Mohler Sr. is convicted, attorneys for the other five can benefit from sitting in court and listening to the testimony of sworn witnesses, searching for contradictions or anything else that can help their cases.
In November, Lafayette County prosecutors unleashed waves of sexual abuse allegations against the Mohlers. Probable-cause statements described how one girl was forced into sexual contact with a horse, while another said a dog was forced onto her.
The Associated Press generally doesn't identify victims of sexual crimes and is not reporting the precise relationships between the children and the accused.
The case revolves around the repressed memories of the victims, who said they were told as young girls to write down their memories and place them in little glass jars, which were buried on the property. Those jars apparently were never found during extensive searches in November of the Bates City farm where the crimes are alleged to have occurred.
"These cases are ones that are ripe for at least the possibility of people being unfairly accused," Uphoff said. "It's very difficult to defend yourself from charges that are 20 years old. Repressed memories can be influenced by all kinds of things that happened in the last 20 years."
Jared Mohler's trial is set for March 28. He's the only one who will be tried in Lafayette County; the other five received changes of venue.
Darrel Mohler, 73, of Silver Springs, Fla., who is Burrell Sr.'s brother, is scheduled for trial May 9 in Clay County on two counts of rape. A week later, also in Clay County, David Mohler, 53, of Lamoni, Iowa, also is to stand trial on two counts of rape.
Burrell Mohler Jr., 54, of Independence, has a May 25 court date in Saline County on three counts of rape, three counts of using a child in a sexual performance and one count of deviate sexual assault.
His brother Roland, 48, of Bates City, has a June 27 trial date scheduled in Clay County. He is charged of one count of rape, one count of sodomy and one count of using a child in a sexual performance.