A New Jersey man who claimed that apocalyptic visions drove him to create pure family bloodlines by raping his five daughters and keeping the offspring they bore him off the societal grid goes on trial Thursday.
The man, who was arrested in 2006 and ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year, faces 27 charges including sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment and criminal sexual contact. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Prosecutors say three of the five daughters he is accused of raping are believed to have given birth to a total of six children.
The Associated Press generally doesn't identify victims of sexual crimes and is not reporting the names of the man or his former wife to protect the identities of their children, now all over 18.
Opening arguments are expected to begin Thursday for the first of five separate trials, one per child victim. Because the trials will be held separately, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Reddin ruled earlier this year that jurors can hear testimony about the home atmosphere but not specific allegations of sexual abuse that pertain to the other cases.
Testimony describing some of the physical abuse and isolation of the family is relevant to the case, Reddin said in his March ruling, including allegations that the man ordered all children be born at home to remain undocumented, deprived them of food and medical care, kept them out of school, subjected them to beatings and threatened them with death if they told anyone.
Authorities say the assaults began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated, and occurred at residences in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown. That period overlaps with the family's coming to the attention of the state's child welfare agency on another matter.
According to court records and published reports, the girls' father was arrested in 2000 and charged with kidnapping for allegedly trying to take three of his children from state custody at a Monmouth County medical center. He posted bail and later pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment and was sentenced to a year's probation.
In pretrial testimony, the man's former wife said he spoke of being "chosen," believed that the world was coming to an end and was convinced that he and his offspring would be the only remaining inhabitants. She said some of the babies were delivered at home and never received birth certificates, and that in at least two instances babies who died in the home were buried without authorities being notified.
The woman, expected to be the first witness called to testify, also previously testified that state child welfare officials had removed at least one of the children from the family's home and that the family had temporarily moved, first to Jersey City and then to Florida, to avoid the agency's investigation.
Jury selection at state Superior Court in Paterson lasted more than a week, with jurors given a brief overview of the charges by the judge, who mentioned the allegations of incest.
Several of the prospective jurors who asked to speak to the judge privately during jury selection were sent home, but it was not known why they asked to be excused.
Noting the difficult subject matter of the trial, the prosecution and the defense asked a judge for a pool of 16 jurors — 12 jurors and 4 alternates — in case some drop out.