'Papa Pilgrim' to be sentenced

Family testifies in sentencing, asking patriarch to repent

Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2007

ANCHORAGE - The wife and children of the man who called himself "Papa Pilgrim" told him Monday he should repent for the sexual, mental and physical abuse he inflicted on their family.

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Robert Hale, 66, the patriarch of a family of 17 that set up a homestead on private land within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, agreed in September to plead no contest to sexual assault, incest and coercion. He was convicted of sexually assaulting an adult daughter. The family members spoke at his sentencing, which was continued into today.

Family members said he beat and abused his daughter, his wife, and many of his other children, refused to allow his children to learn how to read and persuaded them that they would be condemned to hell if they questioned his interpretation of the Bible.

Hale forbid his children from marrying and would not let his sons cut their hair or beards. Other families they befriended, he told them, were not worthy Christians.

On Monday, his family quoted Bible verses back to him, telling him they had been freed from his perverse interpretations of the Scriptures.

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord," said one of his underage sons, quoting Proverbs 12:22.

Superior Court Judge Donald Hopwood is expected today to impose sentence after additional victim testimony and after hearing from Hale himself. Hale's plea agreement calls for a sentence of about 14 years.

Hale's children testified in reverse order, starting with elementary-age girls in pigtails to adults with babies of their own.

Hale entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. He wore a faded orange prison jumpsuit over a pink T-shirt. He carried a folder of papers and a Bible.

Hale and his family first came to prominence in Alaska during a feud with the National Park Service. Family members used a bulldozer without permission to clear an abandoned mining road to get to their land.

National land rights advocates rallied to their cause and stories featured their plight as a case of big government vs. simple God-fearing, music-loving, live-off-the-land folks.

It was a facade, said Hale's wife, Kurina Rose Hale.

In heart-rending testimony, pausing at times to fight back tears, she compared the family to a city - beautiful to outsiders but plagued on the inside by bad water and barren ground. Robert Hale ruled his family by fear and abuse, she said.

"I've never been able to say these things in his presence without objection and the possibility of a threat, and it scared me," she said.

She met Hale in 1974 when she was 16 and he was 33, she said. Hale used drugs and alcohol at the time. Her father threw him out of the house but she stole away with him and didn't see her family again until after her first child was born, she said. Hale was married to another woman at the time and had a promiscuous relationship with a stepdaughter, she said.

She testified at length of his persuasiveness, and how difficult it was to resist him.

"Somehow Robert could make life sound so different than it really was," she said.

They married in 1980. She continued having children. He studied the Bible, kept them isolated from other families and took on the role of spiritual savant who would turn violent if he was questioned. In New Mexico and in Alaska, he cut them off from other people and she would go as long as six months without seeing anyone outside the family, she said.

He persuaded her and the children that he had a perfect spiritual understanding.

"This is how he justified all his immoral activity," he said.

When she questioned his beliefs, she said, he'd scream at her, keep her from eating, take her baby away or slap her repeatedly in the face while pulling her hair. She at times was made to sleep outside in an upright position.

"As the years passed, it got way worse," she said.

As the older boys reached their teen years, he would seriously hurt them.

"They were taught not to fight back," she said.

Hale persuaded one child that she was a "special kind of daughter" and that she must have sex with him.

Like her oldest sons, Kurina Hale said, she was wracked with guilt for not taking steps to stop the abuse by Robert Hale.

"I can see how wrong I was for not finding help," she said.

Joseph Hale, the oldest son, said his father made his five oldest sons sleep together wearing only underwear into their teens. There was sexual abuse among the brothers, he and others said.

Robert Hale found out and instituted regular beatings of his five oldest boys, requiring them to stretch out over a "beating barrel" and administering lashes with a three-cord riding crop.

"He beat us unmercifully for that for months," he said.

It was about that time, Joseph said he learned later, that his father began sexually assaulting his sister. He could not believe it at first, he said, because his father had beaten the boys so severely for their transgressions.

"He constantly lied to me and his older boys when we confronted him," he said.

When the sexual assault was finally confirmed, family members said, Robert Hale justified it with Bible verses.

The sexual abuse culminated with an incident in the tiny community of McCarthy, where Hale locked his daughter in a shed for three days, sexually assaulted, and beat her so badly her face looked like a black and blue basketball, according to another daughter's testimony.

Soon after, she and another daughter left on a snowmobile and contacted authorities.

Through the intervention of another Christian family, the children said, they have learned what it's like for a husbands and wives, fathers and children, to be in loving relationships.

Hale's oldest son said family members fear Hale's control if he's allowed out of prison even it he's in bed or a wheelchair. Joseph Hale called for a substantial sentence.

"The longer the better," Hale said.

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