I-TEAM update: Victims speak after plea in molestation case
AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An Augusta child psychologist, first accused of molesting his young patients more than 16 years ago, is officially a convicted sex offender.
Dr. Kenneth McPherson has spent his second night in jail, and in the next few days, he’ll move to prison.
When our I-TEAM first started digging into his case last year, McPherson had been out on bond for more than a decade.
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He didn’t have a trial date, and it didn’t look like he would be heading to court anytime soon. The I-TEAM kept asking questions and trying to get answers, and we had the only cameras rolling as a plea deal was reached this week.
The court part of this might be over, but it’s not really over for the survivors.
Dr. McPherson was indicted on seven counts of child molestation and one count of sexual exploitation of a minor, but his plea was only for that exploitation charge – just a single charge for one nude photo of one young patient.
That patient was Zachary Potts.
“I’m uncomfortable, but I felt like it’s the right time to speak out about it,” said Potts when we interviewed him the first time last year.
We first introduced you to him and his grandmother and their fight for justice back in December.
“He’s still out there walking the streets. Not even registered as a pedophile,” recalled Ruby Vanenkenvoort. Shortly after our interview, Vanenkenvoort was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died in January, but her family brought her ashes to court.
She never did get to testify, but Zachary knows she was with him when he read his victim impact statement.
“She’s probably really proud of me right now. I promise you,” said Zachary. “She’s really proud.”
We introduced you to a second victim just last week. He wasn’t ready to show you his face or tell you his name, but he wanted you to hear his story.
Meredith Anderson: “Do you feel forgotten?” Alleged Victim: “Oh, absolutely.”
James Pennington now feels empowered. He first spoke to the ITEAM in the shadows, but after confronting Dr. McPherson in court this week, he was ready to come forward.
“You have to live it all again first before you can start healing from anything,” Pennington said.
He’s ready to shed light on all of this.
“Here I am, 16 years later, and my voice was finally heard. I mean, there’s something to be said for that, but it’s not the way it should have happened.”
His mother, Jewel Graves, is ready to show her face, too. She believes justice was not served.
“What are we teaching a community? That it’s ok to abuse children because the DA (District Attorney) is going to get you off? And that to me, is the most disgusting possible outcome of this case.”
Jaime Sutton is the mother of two girls, now young women, also connected to this case. She’s not happy with the sentence, either.
“Apparently this is the best these kids can get right now, so I have to accept it.”
She says it’s especially painful because she was under a court order to take her young daughters to see Dr. McPherson. She says she tried to tell a judge he was abusing them.
“I did. I begged and pleaded for the judge to not make me send my children to him, and I was threatened with contempt. I was threatened with jail time while he was abusing my child,” Sutton said,
Her daughter, Mira, has a 2-week-old daughter of her own. Mira decided to speak out for the first time about any of this to help others, especially her baby girl.
“I’m glad that I’ll be able to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen to my daughter, and I hope that she feels the strength, if something happens, to come forward with it in the future,” Mira said.
Her sister Madison is also turning her pain into purpose. She told the court she’s in college, studying to be a child psychologist.
“I don’t want to call it a good thing out of the situation, but there is always light in bad situations, but I feel as though it definitely inspired me to be an advocate for other children,” Madison said,
As a group, they are all advocates for each other because for so long, they suffered in silence.
Now, their voices are finally being heard.
They still have a lot of questions: Was this being swept under the rug on purpose? Was someone protecting him?
We still have questions, too.
We will keep digging.
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