CROWN POINT - Three women said Thursday they were fondled by a Hammond
church deacon who was convicted in March of molesting a 7-year-old girl in
1991 in a Sunday school class.
Perhaps the most damaging of the witnesses against A.V. Ballenger, 57, was
his niece, a 17-year-old high school senior from East Brewton, Ala., who said
he touched her private areas while she lay pretending to be asleep at his home.
The niece, who is the same age as Ballenger's daughter, said that when her
family lived in Lake County 10 years ago she would often spend Saturday nights
with the Ballenger family, then accompany the family to church Sunday morning
at First Baptist Church of Hammond.
Several times while she was at the home, Ballenger "would go inside my pants
and rub my privates," she testified.
She said one of the incidents happened while she lay on a bed with Ballenger
and his daughter watching television, and another while she lay on a sofa bed
with Ballenger's daughter sleeping alongside her.
The niece was the last of four witnesses against Ballenger brought by the
prosecution in the first day of the sentencing hearing following the deacon's
conviction on a child molesting charge.
Ballenger's daughter and wife testified for the defense Thursday afternoon,
as defense lawyer James Foster tried to punch holes in the niece's testimony.
Both told a different story from the niece and denied that the girl had ever
told them Ballenger had "messed with" her.
Deputy Prosecutors Clarence Murray and Gary Bell also put on three other
witnesses, including two young women who said they also had been fondled by
One was a 21-year-old computer student at Indiana University in Bloomington
who said she visited the Ballenger home a number of times when she was much
younger because her mother and Mrs. Ballenger were close friends.
She said that once, when she was about 5 or 6, she was lying on her stomach
watching television in the Ballenger home when A.V. Ballenger crouched down
alongside her, lifted her dress and fondled her. Hearing women's voices from
the kitchen, he "jumped up and got on the couch," the woman said.
The third victim, a 20-year-old woman from the Columbia Center public
housing project in Hammond, told how she would ride a bus Sunday mornings to
the First Baptist Sunday school, and that A.V. Ballenger was her driver.
She described the church as "a good church" she enjoyed attending, and said
she liked Ballenger. But she said there were several times when both were on
the bus alone that he would run his hand inside her dress and fondle her
All three victims said they did not go to anyone in authority because they
were uncertain what type of reception they would get.
"I didn't want my mom to know," the niece said. Said the Hammond woman, "I
thought no one would believe me; they'd say I was a bad girl."
The computer student said she was "confused" by Ballenger's actions. "I knew
it was wrong, but this was a grown-up doing this to me," she said.
All testified the actions happened while they were between 5 and 7 years
old, and Foster suggested so much time had elapsed they were mistaken about
what had occurred.
But the computer student said, "I am definitely sure. Something like this
you don't forget."
Another state witness was a former security officer at the church, who
testified he saw Ballenger fondle a young girl in 1978 or 1979 in a Sunday
school room after being called to the room by a female teacher.
He said he confronted Ballenger, who was in a "trancelike state" with his
hand under the girl's dress.
At this point in the testimony, Ballenger looked at the packed courtroom and
put a twirling finger to his head as if to say the witness was crazy. As the
testimony continued, he muttered that security guard Michael Parkman was a
Parkman testified he confronted Ballenger, "and he tried to deny it, but I
was standing there as a hands-on witness as to what was going on."
The girl, however, was uncooperative, Parkman said, and disappeared into the
group of children being bused from the church to their homes. She was never
found, and the matter was dropped, he said.
Testimony on behalf of Ballenger is expected to conclude this afternoon.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Richard Conroy said he likely will sentence Ballenger
early next week.