Ronnie Gorton sat emotionless behind the counsel table Monday – in a suit and tie this time, instead of jeans and a t-shirt – while witnesses each took a turn on the stand.
One-by-one the state’s witnesses shared pieces of the story which led to Gorton’s indictment for sexually assaulting teenagers.
The victim’s great aunt said there were red flags and she asked the victim to communicate any wrongdoing with her, but no information was initially shared. She also asked other church members if they were concerned about the relationship between Gorton and the victim.
“We prayed about it,” the victim’s great aunt said after testifying she had a feeling something was off with Gorton and her nephew. “We prayed if something bad was going on, it’d be uncovered … and, within a week, it was.”
According to testimony from Gorton’s close friend, Wesley Edwards, things at The Awakening Church in South Tipton started “going downhill” – attendance was dropping, employees were leaving, Gorton had taken a pay cut – in late 2017 and Gorton eventually submitted his resignation.
Jan. 31, 2018 was the day everything came crashing down.
It was the day the church was set to close and the day the first allegations of sexual abuse involving teenagers surfaced.
It is the policy of The Leader to avoid identifying victims in cases involving sex crimes, to avoid victimizing them again, and so the names of some witnesses may not be shared, either.
Edwards, who’s known Gorton for nearly a decade, testified he knew about the accusations before Gorton did and encouraged the two teens to choose whether or not to file a police report. Edwards was at Gorton’s house on Dolan Road when Gorton found out later that night.
He said Gorton confessed to him, “I did it, I molested him, I do not want to go to prison,” before calling his mother and contemplating suicide.
Edwards said he was initially in disbelief, responding, “I said, ‘No, no, no … no, you didn’t … we’ll figure this out’ and began to encourage him to go ahead and let’s go to the police department and I offered to drive him.”
According to a statement Edwards gave the police the day it happened, Gorton said he couldn’t fight the allegations.
“He asked me if he should blow out his brains or spend an eternity in prison.”
Gorton had a handgun and after wrestling it away, Edwards called 911 to report Gorton being suicidal. They left the house and were pulled over by a Tipton County deputy shortly thereafter.
When defense attorney Blake Ballin asked Edwards why he tried to deny Gorton did what he was confessing to doing, Edwards said, “Who wants to believe their best friend is a child molester? I didn’t want to believe that. I was still hoping the allegations were false.”
The trial will continue Tuesday morning with two more witnesses – the victim and Gorton’s ex-wife – expected to take the stand.
Gorton has been charged with 91 total counts in three separate cases.