By US~Observer Oklahoma Staff
Pastor Ryan Wonderly took his commitment seriously by choosing to make a difference in his community and in the lives of those around him. Wonderly’s position as Children’s Pastor at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Oklahoma was more than just a job, it was his mission. He labored 60 to 80 hours per week performing the unsung but compelling duty of helping to nurture and shape the character of the church’s youth. Now, Pastor Ryan Wonderly is a ward of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections because of a church that cowered to threats, a judge who abused her authority, a lawyer who did nothing beyond cashing checks, and a justice system that allowed a calculating man to manipulate it.
After four and a half years of service Wonderly made the decision to resign and take a sabbatical from the ministry to weigh his future. Parents begged him to reconsider because of the powerfully positive change they had seen him help bring about in their children. Kids tearfully pleaded with him not to leave. The church threw a sorrowful farewell party to thank Ryan Wonderly for his efforts and sacrifice. Almost a year later Wonderly found himself embroiled in a scandal of life altering proportions – allegations of sexual misconduct with the same youth who had, the year before, begged him to stay on as their pastor.
At one time, Dentist Larry Olsen and his wife Lanell fawned over Mr. Wonderly and sang his praises from the rooftops. They had children in Wonderly’s ministry and never hesitated to describe the positive results of his leadership. Being active members in the church the Olsen’s never once voiced concerns regarding Ryan’s integrity. They never once observed anything questionable in person or in the emotional or physical welfare of their children – at least not while Ryan Wonderly was involved in their lives. Larry Olsen has told sources that he began to worry about his daughter’s lack of weight gain. When consulting a doctor he was told that one of many reasons could be stress and that one of many stresses listed was possible molestation. According to Mr. Olsen, this is what initiated the discussion with their daughter regarding the possibility of having been molested and the ensuing questioning of who it was that did these things to her. However, his wife tells a contradictory story. Mrs. Olsen has said to sources that the conversations came after their daughter was found lying on the couch crying. When asked why she was so upset her reply was, “Ryan.” According several close sources, Mrs. Olsen felt that crying over Ryan having left was inappropriate. Two parents, two stories, the first inconsistency.
Numerous sources have told the US~Observer Oklahoma that over the following several weeks Mr. Olsen proceeded to intimidate parents with threats of DHS referrals should they NOT find their children to have been “assaulted” by Wonderly. Olsen sent bullying letters to a doctor he felt should lose his license for not reporting the hypothetical abuse the doctor strongly, to this day, believes never happened. He knowingly perpetuated false rumors about church members regarding Wonderly. Olsen then began to seek criminal charges for something he believed occurred 4 years prior, and that Olsen was sure was the cause of his child’s “lack of weight gain.”
Scared parents then allowed their children to be interviewed by a clandestine organization known as the Care Center with direct ties to the District Attorney’s office. Not only did the Care Center work directly with then DA Wes Lane, but Wes Lane held ties to the Care Center’s training through his own mother’s organization The Burbirdge Foundation, where he had been Vice-President and a Board Member. Experts who have reviewed the taped interviews have revealed how Care Center employees broke with interviewing protocol and used leading questions and tactics to extract results. They also went so far as to be confrontational with children who maintained nothing ever occured, repeatedly asking them if anyone had told them to say nothing happened. These coercive methods only produced accusations which have documentedly changed with time and telling as to make them more reasonable. District Attorney Wes Lane had NO physical examinations done. There has never been one shred of physical evidence suggesting any truth behind the allegations. A noted physician who has been used as an expert witness in molestation cases for both prosecution and defense reviewed the allegations in this case and has stated emphatically, “It could not have happened.” Psychologists have stated that children having been subjected to this type of abuse would have avoided their abuser, but instead they sought Ryan out for another four years and mourned his leaving. Moreover, the Olson’s and prosecution claim Wonderly perpetrated these acts and then abruptly stopped, only to remain in his role as Children’s Pastor for several more years with no other offense – a truly laughable argument.
Ryan Wonderly’s own attorney did not interview or conduct a defensive investigation, feeling it was a lose/ lose situation. As the trial neared he told a shocked family to expect no more than a couple of years. Judge Twyla Mason Gray told Ryan while in chambers and in front of witnesses, “I believe you’re guilty, and I’ll see to it the jury finds you guilty!” According to those present, Judge Gray informed Ryan if he did not accept a plea for 35 years she would sentence him to over 600 years – an abuse of power and a direct violation of judicial ethics. He was told his options were a 35 year Alford Plea or a guilty verdict with no chance of seeing the light of day and he had 10 minutes to decide. His own lawyer recommended he take the plea. A lawyer who checked into an alcohol abuse program shortly after the trial. A lawyer who, to this day, refuses to release Wonderly’s files to his new lawyer after months of direct requests from both the new attorney’s office and Wonderly’s family. Ryan Wonderly has never wavered to profess his innocence even though he entered an Alford Plea. As defined by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: In the law of the United States, an Alford Plea is a plea in criminal court. In this plea, the defendant does not admit the act and asserts innocence, but admits that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.
There is no greater responsibility we have than the protection of those who cannot protect themselves. Sadly, it is only with the loss of our own youth that we begin to see children as our greatest hope for the future. To err on the side of caution is wise, yet no accusation destroys like that of molestation. Even those vindicated have found their lives shattered. In Oklahoma nearly 78% of divorces involving custody of children result in accusations being made against the father. The accusation can be wielded with great devastation.
Ryan Wonderly’s life and the lives of his family have been turned upside down. Wonderly isn’t asking for a “golden key”, rather, he is seeking his right to a trial where he can face his accusers; his right to a judge who isn’t intent on obstructing justice and judicial ethics, and a trial where evidence (and the lack of evidence) can be presented and a verdict can be duly read by a jury who has heard it ALL. He simply wants due process and impartiality; things our justice system are supposed to provide, but in cases like Wonderly’s, where an accusation is evidence enough, innocence seems to be utterly unprovable and the system and society treat all as absolutely guilty – an unfortunate byproduct of such an emotionally charged allegation.
E-mail US~Observer Oklahoma at: firstname.lastname@example.org.