A recent story on an Internet news web site titled Independent Mail reported on August 19, 2009 that a Williamston, South Carolina man faces six counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of unlawful neglect of a child. Williamston Police Chief Richard Inman said Scott Darrell Starnes, 32, of Edgewood St. Wednesday turned himself in to the Williamston Police Department.
Why is this mentioned on a Pagan themed web site? I mean, child abuse of any kind is simply inexcusable. But why do I mention it here? Well, this all came to my attention for no other reason than that Starne’s wife said he is a “male-witch”. From the tone of the story, that one fact alone seems to explain the sexual exploitation and the unlawful neglect. Why, if he’s a witch, the clearly he must be a child molester, performing dark arts in the family’s basement.
“He agreed to turn himself in following a month-long investigation,” Chief Inman said.
According to Inman, the investigation began when Christine Starnes, the suspect’s wife, filed a police complaint alleging acts of cruelty against a child.
According to the police report, “the complainant stated that her husband is deeply involved in the witchcraft of Wiccaism and she is concerned that he is using her and the children without them knowing or their consent.”
Inman said detectives discovered pictures of minors engaged in sexual activity on Starnes’ home computer while investigating the wife’s complaint.
Starnes was processed at the Williamston Police Department before signing a $25,000 personal-recognizance bond and being released.
Apparently no one has explained how Starnes’ alleged interest in Wicca has any bearing whatsoever on the charges of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor and unlawful neglect of a child. One would assume that there was some correlation, since the story seemed to focus more on the Wicca aspect than the the alleged molestation.
Then I began to wonder. What exactly does “third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor” mean in South Carolina? So I looked it up. The answer was surprising. According to Bill 3368, which was enacted in 1991, “third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor” means “possession of material that contains a visual representation of a minor engaged in sexual activity”. After digging for more information about this story, I discovered that indeed, Scott Darrell Starnes was in the possession of pictures of minors in sexual situations on his computer. Six pictures, I assume. But did this mean that he molested his children? Was this the damning evidence that would send him to jail? Proof that something far more diabolical had happened to his own children?
So I decided to look up more information on the one count of unlawful neglect of a child. Was that the molestation part? From what I read, that could mean nearly anything. I came across instances where parents were charged with neglect of a child because they let their children become obese. Surely there must have been something more specific. Then I found it.
Christine Starnes said one of the instances of alleged abuse was recorded by her husband with a video camera. Christine Starnes showed police a video that she said shows Scott Starnes with their 4-year-old son pinned between his legs with the child crying for him to stop. She told police that her husband e-mailed the video to a friend and was laughing as if it was funny.
Police said that the tape gave them probable cause for a search warrant, but not for a child abuse charge. Police said that the child had told an advocate that his father had only tickled him. The responding officer said he thought the tickling might have “gone a little too far,” but it was not a criminal act.
As other evidence, Christine Starnes also made a statement to police describing another incident in which she said she heard her son choking while her husband was giving him a bath, and she said she found Scott Starnes pouring water into the boy’s mouth, making him choke. She also talked about another incident at a lake, in which Starnes allegedly made the child walk on pine cone and cherry bristlings barefoot as punishment for taking his shoes off.
From what I’ve read, it sounds to me like Scott Darrell Starnes is simply an asshole, and a terrible father, to say the least. But nothing I’ve read indicates the he sexually abused his children in any way or that he ever caused them any physical harm. The incident with the water could possibly be considered endangerment. But from what I’ve been able to gather, that was the worst thing Scott Starnes did to his children. If nothing else, he deserves to answer for that transgression alone.
Beyond that, as near as I can gather, except for being a bad father (which, by the way, isn’t a criminal offense), Scott Darrell Starnes’ greatest transgression in the eyes of the general public is his interest in witchcraft. Investigators said that Christine Starnes reported that her husband was studying witchcraft. A Williamston police sergeant confirmed through investigating e-mails and Web sites that Scott Starnes had enrolled in a school of witchcraft and had been looking up information on how to cast spells, do evil and “banish a troublesome person.” But there are no charges in connection to any of the witchcraft-related activities, and no immediate indication that any of Starnes’ witchcraft-related interests were in any way illegal. Well, lucky for him that his “witchcraft-related interests” were in no way illegal.
In the end, what bothers me most about this story is that it should be nothing more than a story of a terrible father who was abusive to his child. If he injured the child or did anything to the child that he can be arrested for, then he should be arrested, by all and any means. Lock him up and throw away the key, I say. Or better yet, toss him in prison and let everyone know what he did to his children. That would be poetic justice in and of itself.
No, the one thing that every article on this story keeps coming back to is Scott Starnes’ interest in witchcraft. Beyond enrolling in an online class, no one knows if he ever seriously studied. But the mere mention of it is enough to put this man in a world of hurt. The mere mention of it was enough to warrant an investigation. That should be frightening to any Pagan or Wiccan who feels that they have equal protection under the law.
But what disturbed me most was the contents of the box of evidence that police collected from Scott Starnes’ wife. The contents of this box have convinced me that, more than anything else, that Scott Darrell Starnes was arrested partly on suspicion of witchcraft. Many of the items in this box can be found in the households of most Pagans, Wiccans and witches. Who knew they could be used as evidence against us?
Below is a transcription of the inventory list:
Case Number: 200902804
Officer Code: 06122
Notes: On today’s date the R/O found the computer and a box waiting for him that had been given to Sgt. Beddingfield by the complainant. The computer along with a consent to search was carried to Jim Boly with Anderson City. The box was inventoried by Sgt. Gregory and officer Lisa Ritter. The box contained the following items:
- 1 large section of cut blond hair possibly belonging to the complainant
- 2 cones of myrrh in a small plastic bag
- 1 black/gold in color draw string bag with a pentagram
- 1 black/silver in color dagger and case
- 1 wooden handle dagger
- 1 small brown pull string bag
- 1 cloth bag form in the shape of a doll (Voodoo type)
- 1 red in color pull string bag
- 1 green bag containing crystals for burying and for incantations
- 1 black in color bag containing Tarot cards
- 1 open bag of single “O” gelatin caps
- 1 open bag of double “OO” gelatin caps
- 1 plastic bag of kava kava root cut (approx 22.69g)
- 1 plastic bag of lavender flowers whole certified organic (approx. 44.8g)
- 2 plastic bags of cinnamon bark (30.3g and 15g)
- 1 plastic bag of cat nip pills (approx. 16.0g)
- 1 plastic bag of fenugreek pills (approx. 37.5g)
- 1 plastic bag of wormwood (approx. 45.5g)
- 1 plastic bag of spearmint pills (approx. 50.6g)
- 1 plastic bag containing a quassha chip (approx. 1.3g)
- 1 plastic bag of dittany of crete (approx. 4.5g)
- 1 bottle of fiery wall of protection (approx. 1/2oz)
- 1 brownn in color bottle containing an unknown type of oil like substance
- 1 stainless steel type wire mess ball (strainer style)
- 1 healing herbal remedies book
- 4 Cap-M-Quick set boxes
- 2 crystal type rocks
- miscellaneous papers
The items listed above have been photographed, placed back into the box and secured for safe keeping.
All I’ll say in closing is that if Scott Starnes abused his children, he has no sympathy from me. I’m an abuse survivor myself. However, I am deeply, deeply offended that his interest in witchcraft is being used against him as proof that somehow, in the face of no evidence that Starnes ever committed a prosecutable crime (beyond that perhaps of possessing images of minors engaged in sexual activity), zealous prosecutors in South Carolina are instead leveling the charge of witchcraft against Scott Darrell Starnes to make what little they can charge him with seem all the more depraved and diabolical.
It might worth mentioning here that the abuse I suffered as a child was not at the hands of my mother, who was Pagan and a witch, but rather at the hands of my Christian father. Once my mother had been arrested because of my father’s unprovable accusations of reckless endangerment and child abuse, he was free to explore his depravities upon me. All it took for my mother to go to prison, with no evidence whatsoever to prove the charges against her, was the local prosecutor hammering away at the jury the single abominable idea that my mother practiced witchcraft. She went to jail not because she abused me (she never did), but because she was a witch.
I have no sympathy for Scott Darrell Starnes if he abused his children. But if he did so, let’s make him pay for those transgressions alone, not because he’s a “male-witch” who’s studying witchcraft. If that’s all it takes to send someone to prison, we are all in danger.