Children's charity co-founder sentenced in sex abuse case
Heber City • In the spring of 2009, Lon Kennard Sr., now 70, was walking on air, having been recognized for his work in Ethiopia, where he and his wife, DeAnna, established an orphanage for troubled and abandoned children. The Wasatch County couple also had adopted six Ethiopian children.
Wednesday, the humanitarian and former LDS bishop was sentenced to three terms of five years to life in prison to be served consecutively. He had earlier pleaded guilty to three first-degree felony counts of aggravated sex abuse of a child.
In March 2010, he was charged with 43 felony counts of sex abuse and sexual exploitation of a child. He has been held in the Wasatch County jail since that time.
In an emotional sentencing hearing in Judge Derek P. Pullan's 4th District courtroom, his adoptive daughters, now adults, testified to sexual abuse that spanned a decade. (The Salt Lake Tribune does not name victims of sex crimes.)
The Kennards also have six grown biological children. They were not sexually abused but said Kennard was verbally and physically abusive when they were young.
Before sentencing him, Pullan compared Kennard to Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.
"You were their father and spiritual adviser and groomed them to gratify your sexual desires," Pullan said of Kennard's adoptive Ethiopian daughters. "You forced children to carry the crushing burden of guilt and shame. What you have done is devastating and evil."
Kennard's attorney, Matthew Bartlett, told the judge that his client had spent a great deal of his life serving his family and community. And that his humanitarian work in Ethiopia, no doubt, saved many lives. Bartlett suggested his client could be rehabilitated and asked that the sentences run concurrently.
In an emotional and rambling statement, a tearful Kennard told the court he had sinned and wants to repent.
"I've got eight beautiful daughters â¦ that I've injured psychologically and emotionally and in every other way. But I've always loved them," he said.
Kennard asked for forgiveness. "I'm begging on my hands and knees that my family doesn't keep me as an outcast," he said. "I need a family. It's horrible not to have a family."
After the sentencing, one of Kennard's biological sons, Vyrl Kennard, said he doesn't want to talk to his father ever again. He said most of his siblings have cut off communication with their father, too.
"I've been looking forward to today as a chance for some closure," he said. "That's what I feel, closure and relief."
The family released a prepared statement that reads, in part: "With a predator who has so completely and convincingly disguised himself as a pillar of the community for so many years, we feel it is in society's best interest to keep Lon Kennard Sr. locked away permanently."
In a Salt Lake Tribune interview in April 2009, Kennard said he believed he was born to help the children of Ethiopia and that this was the best time of his life. He said he wanted to make a difference in a troubled world.
After adopting four girls and two boys from Ethiopia in the 1990s, the Kennards embarked on a project they called Village of Hope, Ethiopia, in the rural area of Kersa Illala. In 2005, with donations to their nonprofit organization, they built a fresh-water well and housing, brought in medical workers, and even taught local farmers techniques in dry-land agriculture to afford villagers better diets.
But Kennard's life began to unravel quickly early in 2010 after one of his adopted daughters called Wasatch County authorities and reported she and a sister had been sexually abused over the course of a number of years.
According to court documents, the sexual abuse was ongoing from 1995 to 2002. Kennard even planted hidden cameras in the girls' bathroom, according to testimony. He forced one adoptive daughter to model revealing lingerie as he videotaped her.
An adult adoptive son of the Kennards discovered nude pictures and videos on Lon Kennard Sr.'s computer, downloaded copies and informed his sisters, according to court documents. The videos and photographs constitute child pornography, according to authorities. At least one video depicted a sex act.
On Wednesday, Kennard's wife of 47 years, DeAnna, told the judge that her husband had shattered her life and that of every member of her family. She asked that the sentences be served consecutively.
"The horror my family experienced is impossible to describe," she said. "We'll never be released from the sentence we've been given, or the prison in which we live."