'Papa Pilgrim' sentenced to 14 years for sexually assaulting his daughter

Wife, children detail stories of abuse in court statements

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Robert Hale, a self-styled mountain man who took his family far away from modern civilization to raise them by his interpretation of the Bible in the tiny community of McCarthy, was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in prison for sexually assaulting a daughter.

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Judge Donald Hopwood imposed the sentence after more than a dozen heart-wrenching victim impact statements were delivered in court from Hale's wife and many of their 15 children, who told horrific stories of physical and mental abuse.

Their message was clear: Send the 66-year-old Hale to jail for a long time because they feared what would happen if he were to be released.

Hopwood called it "one of the worst cases of domestic violence I've seen."

Robert Hale, sometimes whimpering, at one point singing, denied he had sexually assaulted his daughter or physically abused any of his children in a life that took him from Texas to New Mexico and Alaska.

Over two and a half hours, he admitted no guilt but accused his wife, sons and especially his daughter for his legal predicament.

"She has committed perjury in front of the grand jury in ways I can't believe," Hale said.

He blamed his wife for never teaching the children to read. He claimed she was adulterous and the sins of her generation were visited upon the children, and that she turned the children against him because she was jealous of their affection for him.

He said his sons were lying when they claimed he consistently beat them with a riding crop over a "whipping barrel."

According to his beliefs, he said, he was obligated to provide correction to his children.

"If we don't correct our children, then it's because we don't love them," he said.

He denied that one of his "corrections" at a family building in the tiny community of McCarthy had seriously injured his daughter. He said he stayed with her for three days there because they could not start their snowmobile in minus 60 temperatures. He said the distraught young woman at one point tried to leave without proper winter clothing and he might have accidentally bruised her face as he struggled to keep her inside.

His daughter described the incident differently - getting pummeled into submission, locked inside the building, then repeatedly sexually assaulted. Afterward, a sister described her face as looking like a black and blue basketball.

Hopwood said the consistency in the victims' statements were credible while Hale's denials did not make sense.

"I just don't believe it," he said.

Hale was indicted on 30 counts of rape, incest, coercion, kidnapping and assault for crimes committed between 1998 and 2005. On the eve of his trial last December, Hale pleaded no contest to the three counts in exchange for a sentence of 14 years. He later tried to withdraw the plea, claiming he made a mistake because he'd been sick in jail, on medications and was not well-represented by his public defender.

Last month, in a hearing to decide on his change of plea, Hale changed his mind again and returned to a no contest plea.

Hale, the judge said, used religion for all the wrong reasons - for his own foul purposes.

"Mr. Hale believes he is omnipotent," Hopwood said. "He really does."

Hopwood said he believed the statements of Hale's sons and daughters.

"The beatings as described did happen," Hopwood said. "It occurred over a long period of time."

As for the crimes he was charged with, Hopwood said, Hale assaulted his daughter until she could resist no more, then sexually assaulted her.

"That's about as bad as it gets," Hopwood said.

Hale received 10 years for sexual assault, and two years each for incest and coercion.

The judge said he felt obligated to explain why Hale would be sentenced to only 14 years. It wasn't because of his age and poor health, he said. Rather, it was a sentence worked out over time with the victims and it would spare them testifying at trial.

"A trial can be an emotional, lengthy, grueling process," he said.

Hale's oldest son, Joseph, called his father's statement a bunch of lies.

"I think that's pretty clear for everybody to see," he said.

Family members struggled over whether they should testify at the sentencing. In the end, they wanted to give the judge a complete picture of how Robert Hale manipulated their lives.

"The judge understood his control and his lies and was able to see through it," Joseph Hale said.

His younger brother, Joshua Hale, had hoped his father would tell the truth.

"It's hard to believe he's blaming the family for doing everything," Joshua Hale said. "It's sort of hurtful."

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 within the 13.2 million-acre national park, the nation's largest.

National land rights advocates rallied to their cause and helped pay for their legal fight.

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