‘Faith Healing’ Father Sentenced to 31 years in Prison for Raping Daughters

‘Faith Healing’ Father Sentenced to 31 years in Prison for Raping Daughters July 8, 2019
Lester Kester

A man that repeatedly raped his daughters for decades was sentenced in court in April. Lester Kester, of Canyon County, Idaho, pleaded guilty to lewd conduct in November 2018. Lester’s wife, Sarah Kester, was sentenced for her role in the crimes in February 2019.

Nearly five months after Lester Kester pleaded guilty to lewd conduct, a judge sentenced him to 31 years to life in prison. The Idaho Statesman reported the sentencing of Kester in April.

The sentencing wrapped up a horrific case that stunned many in the small Idaho county. Lester and Sarah Kester belong to a faith-healing church called Followers of Christ. The group does not believe in medicine, vaccinations, and refuses to go to the hospital for significant illnesses. Instead, members of the church pray for complete healing by God.

Followers of Christ members live in a tight-knit community and maintain limited contact with the outside world. Members are fearful of police and prefer to resolve criminal matters within the community. Men are the rulers of the home. Women in the group are barely educated and expected to breed and raise children. Children raised in the church do not attend public school nor interact with “worldly” people.

Due to the group’s immense distrust of the outside world, crimes of sexual abuse and domestic violence are not uncommon in families. Rather than reporting crimes to the police, members are urged to pray for one another.

In Lester’s case, he and his wife Sarah covered up his crimes against his daughters for nearly 20 years. Sarah Kester learned about her husband’s crimes in the early 2000s. One of her daughters told Sarah that Lester was sexually molesting them. Rather than helping her daughter, she prayed for demons to leave her husband’s body.

A few years before his arrest, the daughter’s told their mom about their father raped them. Rather than helping her daughters, Sarah called them whores and sluts. Again, Sarah did not report him to police. She believed her husband’s actions were the result of demonic possession. Sarah continued to pray for the demons to leave his body.

Without anyone turning him in, Lester continued to rape and molest his daughters up until his arrest in 2018. In total, five victims came forward and accused Lester of rape and sexual misconduct. Four of the victims in the case were his daughters.

After prosecutors presented their evidence to the court, Kester agreed to take a plea deal. In November, he pleaded guilty to five counts of lewd conduct with a child under 16 years old.

Prosecutors argued that Kester showed no remorse for his actions. Additionally, they argued that Kester could not be reformed because he’s attracted to prepubescent youth. Deputy Prosecutor Erica Kallin told the court,

“He does not consider himself to be a sex offender,” Kallin said. “(He said) this happened because of a lack of planning and poor judgment. … This was a calculated decision by a pedophile.”

During the hearing, several of the victims provided statements to the court.

“What happened to us does not define us … what happens to us now is our future,” one victim said. “He will no longer harm anyone at all. I hope that monster enjoys what’s coming to him … we are no longer victims, but warriors.”

Another victim told the court that “no one needs to go through this fear, torture and misery.”

While the victims made their statements, Kester looked straight ahead and showed no emotion. When the victim’s statements were complete, Kester said to the court,

“I hope they find it in their heart to forgive me,” Kester said. “I’m very sorry for what I’ve done, and I’m here to take whatever you feel necessary.”

Judge Bradly Ford sentenced Kester to 31 years for each count to run concurrently. The judge also added an indeterminate sentence of life in prison. Kester will not be eligible for parole until he’s 80 years old.

While ordering the sentence, Judge Ford said,

“The court has to deal with many people who are charged with life offenses,” Ford said. “In my many years on the bench, this may be the worst conduct — close to the worst if not the worst — that I have seen.”

The judge went on to tell Kester that he agreed with the victims that Kester was a monster.

Judge Ford said he had “never used the word ‘monster’” when sentencing someone. “But I certainly couldn’t disagree with (the victims’) characterization,” he told Kester.

“My message to you and other predators like you is that this horrific conduct will not be tolerated in our community and our society. We need to protect children from people like you.”

Kester will now spend the next three decades behind bars at a minimum. His wife Sarah was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for not reporting his crimes. With both parents behind bars, the girls are free from their parent’s twisted abuse and beliefs. There are no details about the locations of the victims at this time. At least two of his daughters are over the age of 18.

Churches like Followers of Christ protect predators by enabling their abuse and not reporting their crimes. The church not only doesn’t report sexual abuse, but they do not provide medical treatment for children. Due to their extreme beliefs, hundreds of children have died prematurely from childhood illnesses like food poisoning, strep throat, and influenza.

Idaho is one of the few states in the nation that allows parents to deny medical care if they practice faith healing. The state is ok with negligent death but not child rape. Lawmakers in Idaho have some explaining to do.

*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

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  • James Sinagarak

    “Idaho is one of the few states in the nation that allows parents to deny medical care if they practice faith healing. The state is ok with negligent death but not child rape. Lawmakers in Idaho have some explaining to do.”

    Yeah. Like why they consider faith healing a legitimate substitute for medical care, which some number of them must or this nonsense would have been made illegal decades ago.

  • Crazy Aussie Pagan

    Not long enough. Life with no parole as well as physical castration if the death penalty is not available should have been the justice dished out to him.

  • “He does not consider himself to be a sex offender.”

    Rapists, abusers, and molesters never consider themselves those things, and will deny it ’til the cows come home even if you have a mountain of evidence to prove it.

  • jheimlich

    Thank you for writing about this case in a more in-depth way than the mainstream media. In authoritarian religious cultures, such as the Followers of Christ, children are always subjected to a host of abuses. While the “faith-healing” issues have taken center stage, there are many other problems that the media overlooks. Meanwhile, people wring their hands in considering the parents of children who were medically neglected since they believe these parents love their kids (that they’re forcing to suffer horribly.) Thanks again for your coverage, Janet Heimlich, the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

  • Martha Smith

    Unfortunately, most states in the nation allow parents to deny medical care if they practice faith healing. See http://childrenshealthcare.org/?page_id=24 for more about specific states and which religious exemptions they provide. The situation is shameful.

  • B.A.

    I have your book,”Breaking Their Will”! I’ve read it and I’ve re-read some passages mote than once. 🙂

  • persephone

    I saw a documentary on this group. They are tight with local politicians, like the polygamist Mormons in Utah, and they’ve been getting away with, literally, murder.

  • Friend

    For future reference, how long does it take for comments to come out of moderation on WOACB under the newish nanny filter? I made the mistake of quoting language from the post and not changing the spelling of words.

  • persephone

    The moderator has to review and release the comments, from what I understand.

  • Friend

    I’m sure it’s a big pain. I’m also discouraged when my little attempts to add to the conversation vanish. It would be super nice if the nanny filter gave us a warning so we don’t have to check ridiculously long non-alphabetized lists of words posted on other blogs. That is probably way too much to hope for.

  • jheimlich

    B.A. Very grateful. If you’re not already connected to a community please consider asking to join our FB closed group “Child-Friendly Faith.” Take good care, Jan

  • jheimlich

    B.A. Thank you for reading my book and your comment. It’s a hard read for most people. Thanks for your willingness to learn about religious child maltreatment.

  • B.A.

    I’m somewhat active in my synagogue community,which helps a lot,because it keeps me connected to my dearly departed Dad;it was a big part of his life. But thank you anyway. Very much appreciated.

  • That’s not true at all. There are only 3 states that allow it – everywhere else it’s illegal

  • thank you so much for responding! This group has become a focus of mine since the Spring when I found Sarah Kester’s story. Since then I’ve written a few articles – this group is soooooo horrible to children and women

  • Martha Smith

    Your information is incorrect. Only seven states have no such exemptions. Six states allow religious exemptions for negligent homicide, manslaughter, or capital murder. Seven allow religious exemptions for felony crimes against children, such as child endangerment or neglect. etc.

    My own state, Florida, supposedly allows no criminal exemptions, only civil exemptions, yet when children die of religiously motivated neglect, the criminal justice system does nothing. Why? Because when 7yo Amy Hermanson died of untreated juvenile diabetes, after a long period of suffering which many people witnessed, the state supreme court ruled that the civil exemptions gave her parents the belief that medical neglect was ok if religiously motivated and overturned their conviction. So even though Florida supposedly doesn’t have a criminal exemption written into the statutes, it effectively does have that religious exemption in practice. And Florida is not alone.

    btw, the Hermanson case took place in 1992. The state supreme courts called these religiously motivated exemptions “a trap that the legislature should address.” Know what the legislature has done since then? Nothing.