The trial of a St. Johnsville man accused of sexually abusing six Amish boys from two western Montgomery County families over several years opened Tuesday in Montgomery County Court.
Montgomery County District Attorney Jed Conboy told a jury that allegations against Robert A. Madsen, 48, date back to 2006 and involve boys as young as 12 at the time of the abuse.
Madsen invited the boys in succession, first three from one family and then three from another, to his farm to do work for him, Conboy told the jury, and Madsen approached each boy in a similar manner, asking them about their clothes or bodily functions. Then, Conboy said, it progressed to touching, then to oral sex.
“The defendant groomed them, and then he violated them,” Conboy told the jury.
Madsen faces more three-dozen separate charges. If convicted of the top counts of predatory sexual assault against a child, he could face as much as 25 years to life in prison. He could also face potential consecutive sentences if convicted of other counts.
Madsen’s attorney, Steven Coffey, denied his client committed any crimes. He admitted to the jury that there was some sexual contact with some of the individuals, but that contact occurred when the boys were 17 or older. Other allegations, he indicated, were simply untrue.
Coffey warned the jury he would closely cross-examine the alleged victims because it is important to his client’s defense.
“In significant areas of this case, one, two, if not more, of the complainants in this case will show himself to be a liar,” Coffey said.
Tuesday’s proceedings also included testimony from the father of three of the boys and from one of his sons, the first to disclose allegations against Madsen.
Madsen was first arrested in February 2014 after the initial accuser, then 20, disclosed the alleged abuse to his father and then immediately to a neighbor with connections to law enforcement. As the investigation took shape, state police learned of similar accusations from two of the boy’s brothers.
They also learned of another Amish family living across the Mohawk River who had also had contact with Madsen. Three of their sons reported similar incidents that dated to before the first family’s interactions with Madsen, Conboy told the jury.
Conboy emphasized the two families were from different groups of Amish and said they did not know each other or interact prior to the allegations coming to light.
“They did not worship together. They did not go to school together,” Conboy said. “They had absolutely nothing in common except for one thing: Robert Madsen.”
Coffey argued the only thing that divided the families was a river and a few miles. He also attempted to highlight the Amish community itself, contending the allegations relate to Madsen’s sexual orientation. Madsen is gay, Coffey said, and the Amish view on homosexuality was that “it’s not just not condoned, it’s condemned.”
The allegations of wrongdoing against Madsen, Coffey argued, were “constructed by the Amish.”
Coffey’s account, however, contrasted with that of the father who testified. Responding to a question from Coffey, the man indicated homosexuality isn’t talked about much and was something he knew little about.
“It’s not really known,” the father said.
Under questioning by Conboy, the father said he first met Madsen in 2008 and his impression was that Madsen was a “pretty decent guy.” He said members of the Amish community allow their sons to work on non-Amish farms to broaden their horizons and learn skills they might not otherwise experience. He said they always worry about sending the boys, but the experiences are usually good.
Asked by Coffey about sex education in Amish schools, the father said there is none.
The son testified he first did work on Madsen’s farm in the summer of 2008 when he was 14. He said Madsen asked about the buttons on his pants and touched him outside of his pants.
Sexual contact didn’t begin until the next summer, when he was 15, he said. The son said it would happen in a shed on Madsen’s property, as well as inside a camper there.
Asked by Conboy why he disclosed the abuse in January 2014, the son referenced his then-upcoming marriage, saying it could have been because he wanted “to be honest with my past.”
“It could have been watching my little brothers grow up, and they might be living with the same thing I did,” he added.
In addition to the two brothers Madsen is also accused of abusing, there are younger boys in the family as well.
Coffey pressed the son about dates, pointing out that he told the grand jury he first met Madsen around Christmas 2008, but testified he began working for him in the summer of 2008. Coffey also got the son to admit he knew what was happening was wrong, then questioned why he didn’t tell anyone sooner.
Conboy responded by questioning the son about the ways of the non-Amish, who Amish call “English.” Conboy suggested Madsen referred to “non-English ways” when convincing the son to take part in the acts.
Conboy emphasized in questioning that the son didn’t know what English ways were and that the son never had any sex education.
Testimony is to continue today before Judge Felix Catena. Madsen is free on bail.