FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Josh Duggar’s child pornography trial starts this week. On Monday, the prosecution and defense called witnesses and argued over whether to allow allegations that Duggar molested four female minors as evidence in the trial.
The prosecution wants to use these allegations during the jury trial, however, the defense is arguing that Josh told the adults in his life about what he did under the guise of religious confidentiality, and therefore it can’t be used in the trial.
The prosecution first called Bobye Holt. She described herself and her husband, former State Senator Jim Holt, as best friends with the Duggar family. She said Josh Duggar and her daughter were the same age and had a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship in March of 2003. Both were 15-years-old at this point and Bobye said they had hoped the two would one day get married.
Bobye got emotional several times while on the witness stand as she tried to explain what happened.
Bobye said she and her husband were called over to the Duggar household on March 30, 2003, because Josh’s dad, Jim Bob Duggar, said they had some relationship-ending information to share with the Holts. She said they went over there and had the conversation in a room with Jim Bob, Josh and Michelle Duggar, Josh’s mother.
Bobye said that’s when Josh told them he had touched four female minors. He told them that same day, Jane Doe 4 was sitting on his lap during Bible time when he touched her breast and vaginal areas over her clothes.
He also told them that over the course of several years, he touched Jane Doe 1, Jane Doe 2 and Jane Doe 3 in the same areas over their clothes while they slept.
Court documents show that all four of the minors were at least three years younger than Josh.
The prosecution questioned Bobye on her role in the church. She said they were part of Bible Grace Fellowship Church along with the Duggar family. She said she was never a leader or elder in the church and that women couldn’t be elders.
Holt said women typically aren’t included in confidential conversations with church elders. She said this conversation with the Duggars was one of parents talking with parents, even though she did recall some prayer involved. She asserted multiple times that this was not a church conversation.
Bobye said she and her family were staying at their home in Little Rock in the early months of 2005 when they invited Josh to come and stay with them. Her husband was working in the legislative session at the time. Bobye said she still held out hope that Josh and her daughter could reconnect and get married someday, and she wanted Josh to be able to confide in them so they could help get him back on the right path.
She got emotional again as she recalled this next conversation. She said Josh told her, when Jane Doe 4 was sitting on his lap during Bible time, he actually touched her under her underwear and that he put his fingers inside her.
The defense questioned Bobye next. Bobye confirmed that in the early 2000s, the church was small and they would often meet in each other’s homes. She said that her husband, Jim, was an ordained Baptist minister and that he would counsel people in his role as a chaplain.
She couldn’t remember if there were any confidentiality rules established when she and her husband went over to the Duggar’s home in 2003. Bobye said both she and her husband were giving advice to Josh, and that women don’t typically do that in their church.
When the prosecution got the chance to ask redirect questions, Bobye confirmed that prayer was a daily part of their routine, and wasn’t unique to the family meeting in 2003. She thought of Josh’s confessions as coming from a moral place and not a religious one.
Jim Bob Duggar took the stand next. He said that in 2002, Josh came to him and Michelle about touching the female minors while they were sleeping. He only remembered Josh telling them about touching them on their breasts over the clothes.
Jim Bob couldn’t recall anything about Josh touching their vaginal areas, even after the prosecution showed him a Springdale Police report where that was detailed.
He said they were shocked, but were happy that Josh came to them on his own and that they took action to prevent it from happening again. Jim Bob said they pulled Josh out of their home in 2003 and that they would call on the church elders for guidance and support.
At several points, Jim Bob appeared to get flustered with the prosecution’s questioning. There were issues where he would extrapolate further on his answers beyond the questions the prosecution asked. Judge Brooks took a moment to pause the questioning when it got to a more heated moment.
The judge addressed Jim Bob saying this is a “difficult and unfair situation” that he’s in and that he needs to just answer the questions being asked.
The defense questioned Jim Bob next. He confirmed that Bible Grace Fellowship Church would meet for services in people’s homes. He also said that the elder’s wives were “spiritual leaders” for other women and children in the church.
Jim Bob said he was thankful that Josh came to them and that his son had crossed the lines at an age where curiosity and hormones can take over. Josh was in his teens when he first came to his parents about what happened. He said they counseled with the Holts and sought them out for religious guidance. He told the court that Josh would go over to the Holts’ home to work on things; he said they were a good team of councilors to his son.
He told the court he asked the Holts for confidentiality when Josh confessed what he did, but couldn’t remember exactly what Josh said happened, including if he touched the girls’ vaginal areas.
There was some confusion about who is considered a leader in the church. Duggar said the church had three men who were the main elders, including Jim Bob Duggar and Jim Holt, but also insisted that all three wives of the men were considered as part of the leadership and would be able to vote on things depending on the issue or topic.
After Jim Bob left the stand, the defense and prosecuting attorneys got a final chance to argue their sides before the judge.
The prosecution said both Bobye and Jim Bob testified that Josh molested the four girls in some capacity. Testimony also showed that the assault happened multiple times over the course of multiple years. They argued there was no evidence that either party was lying. And when looking at Bobye’s testimony, she very clearly remembered what Josh said happened 18 years later.
The defense argued Jim Bob’s testimony showed that the intent of consulting with the Holts was for spiritual and religious purposes. And because Josh confessed what happened to a group of church leaders, the speech is protected by clergy confidentiality.
Judge Timothy Brooks had some questions about this logic. It seemed to him that much of the Duggar’s lives is guided by religion, so does this mean that any conversation with an elder could be considered privileged? If someone calls their best friend who is a church leader for prayer or spiritualness, is that privileged? Is it still the obligation of a church leader to report on something as serious as child sexual abuse?
The defense argued that this situation was not an every day conversation, so it should be covered by privilege.
Ultimately, Judge Brooks needed more briefing on clergy confidentiality from the attorneys and said he needed any final briefs by noon tomorrow.
Jury selection also starts tomorrow, but it could take two days for them to pick all the jurors. The trial is expected to start Wednesday or Thursday.