Tape recording called "smoking gun" in alleged Trinity cover-up
By Jeannie Blaylock
First Coast News
November 15, 2007
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- Did Trinity leaders know about allegations that former pastor Bob Gray was an alleged pedophile and covered it up for years?
A First Coast News investigation has uncovered an audio tape recording of a meeting at Trinity about a few weeks before Gray's arrest in 2006.
The husband of an alleged victim of Gray says he's the one who recorded the meeting.
We're calling the man "John" because he wants to remain anonymous.
"John" says an important point about him is that he and his wife are not part of civil litigation against Trinity. They aren't suing for money. In fact, "John" says, "I want people to understand we're not out to take a ministry down."
"John" says at the meeting and on the tape were some of his family members, current Trinity pastor Tom Messer, and two Trinity leaders, including a Deacon.
The tape has been subpoenaed by Trinity pursuant to the civil action against Trinity.
(Six cases have been filed alleging Trinity knew about Bob Gray and did not protect children.)
To understand the comments on the tape we need to go back to 1992.
Last year we interviewed Ann Stewart, a former Trinity member. Stewart, a pastor's wife now in North Carolina, says she was molested by Bob Gray when she was a young girl. Stewart went to Trinity for years.
She says finally, at age 21, she went to Tom Messer, she hoped, to expose the truth. She told about the incidents, she says, but her words were twisted to "lie to the congregation."
In 1992, church members recall, there were crazy allegations against their pastor at the time, Bob Gray.
Dennis Cassell was Athletic Director at Trinity back then. He remembers Gray told the congregation that there was an indiscretion but it was "neither sexual nor immoral."
Stewart says, "It was just a cover-up."
But those words, "neither sexual nor immoral," have been repeated at Trinity for years, as if Trinity was all above board and Gray had done nothing wrong.
Even after Bob Gray was arrested, Trinity released a statement saying its own internal investigation found "no indication of a cover-up...either deliberate or intentional."
When asked if there was no cover-up at Trinity, Stewart says, "No, that's a lie."
Stewart and the Cassells both listened to the tape.
Pat Cassell, Dennis's wife, says, "The victims are vindicated. The kids are vindicated. Tom (Messer) knew and covered it up for years."
Dennis Cassell says, "The truth is finally out and that's what we've been praying for for many years."
What's on the tape?
Messer acknowledges he knows the meeting is being recorded.
Also, Messer is asked about that well-known meeting in 1992 in which Gray said he had done nothing "sexual nor immoral."
A woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says, "People sitting in Trinity still do not believe that there is anything that Dr. Gray ever did anything sinful. Remember, Tom, it was an indiscretion. It was not of a sexual nature. That is not true."
Messer replies on the tape, "No, I've never doubted that what he said that first night was inaccurate. I've never doubted that. Um. And I wouldn't sit here and say that today."
Later in the tape Messer talks again about Gray's statement using the term "erroneous."
To "John" Messer says, "You want the erroneous statement that was made by Dr. Gray to be corrected."
"John" also asks Messer, "Let me ask you this question because I think it's important. Do you feel like he's disqualified himself from the ministry?"
Messer's reply is, "Yes, I do from pastoring."
"John" says he urged Messer to make a statement in front of the church admitting Gray's 1992 statement was inaccurate and admitting Gray molested children.
Messer on the tape says, "I have a draft statement."
Messer says he wants to help. "If I wasn't interested in trying to handle this I wouldn't be doing this."
But Messer says on the tape he can't promise it would happen.
It never did.
"John" says the date scheduled to tell the church supposedly was Sunday, May 21, 2006.
Bob Gray was arrested and charged with capital sexual battery three days before.
Still some want Messer to speak, they say, the truth.
Stewart says she isn't holding her breath, though.
She says, "I believe Tom Messer has entangled himself so much with lies and deceit for many years that it's impossible for him to face the people and tell the truth. That would be his demise at Trinity."
Stewart and the Cassells want Messer to resign.
We tried multiple times to offer Trinity an opportunity to respond. We offered to talk with Tom Messer personally. We offered Trinity's attorney an opportunity to explain what Messer was saying on the tape.
Our communication with Trinity's attorney, Ed Trent, went on for several days.
Trent's email response includes the real name of "John." So in the email we've inserted "John" to continue to protect his identity.
Trent: "Jeannie, I am getting back to you, as promised, regarding your questions concerning an audio taped conversation involving (John), Tom Messer, and others. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on matters pending before the court. The Florida Rules of Professional Conduct properly restrict attorneys from commenting on matters pending before the courts where such comments are likely to prejudice the proceedings. Accordingly, I am not in a position to publicly comment on an audio tape beyond what has already been filed with the court. If you have questions regarding issues raised in the court papers, I am happy to help you understand the judicial process as it applies to these cases." As for the civil suits, Adam Horowitz, the attorney in Miami who's filed the 6 suits, says the tape is the "smoking gun." Horowitz says, "It establishes that Tom Messer and other leaders were in conspiracy with Bob Gray to conceal the truth from the parishioners and cover up wrong doing." Gray was supposed to be in trial November 12th with jury selection November 13th. With his passing, obviously, that trial will never happen. Some members of Trinity say their prayers go out to Gray's family. Meanwhile, some of the alleged victims say they're upset they will never get their day in court. Stewart says the tape is "physical proof we have been telling the truth."