Judge rules Colleton Co. cult preacher will stand trial

Stair in court during his bond hearing in Colleton County (Source: Live 5)
Stair in court during his bond hearing in Colleton County (Source: Live 5)

COLLETON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A judge ruled Tuesday afternoon there is probable cause to take the case against an 85-year-old Colleton County preacher accused of criminal sexual misconduct and kidnapping to trial.

Detective Sgt. Ed Marcurella, the Colleton County detective who is heading up the investigation, said the FBI interviewed some of Stair's accusers, the ones who live out of state.

He said Stair, who did not attend the hearing, declined to answer questions with him after rights were read. Stair asked instead to see his lawyer, the detective said.

The accused cult leader was facing three rape charges but his defense attorneys today convinced a magistrate to reduce two of those charges.

Marcurella also said a warrant has been issued for the mother of one of the victims and the father of another victim for failing to report the alleged assaults.

Deputies say the case will first go to a grand jury before heading to trial.

Ralph Stair was released on $750,000 bond in late January. Part of the conditions of the release included electronic monitoring, forfeiture of his passport and no contact with his accusers or persons under 18 at his compound. He must also grant unfettered access to law enforcement. Prosecutors initially asked for $1 million bond in the case.

GRAPHIC: Some of the details of the charges contain explicit sexual references and may be very disturbing.

Stair was arrested in December 2017 at the Overcomer Ministry on Augusta Highway in Walterboro. The charges against Stair span more than 20 years from 1992 to June 2017. One charge stems from a woman's claim that Stair consistently harassed her for sex, stating he wanted to "kiss her tummy" which the victim said everyone understood to mean "oral sex."

Another charge states Stair was preaching to his congregation and called an underage girl to approach him on two separate occasions, asked her age, and fondled her right breast according to investigators.  Investigators say Stair came to one victim's residence from January 1998 until the early part of June 1999.  The victim told detectives that once he was in her home, he would sexually assault her, and said it happened approximately 35 or more times over the course of a year-and-a-half.

Stair's arrest in December came three months after Live 5 News police reporter Harve Jacobs investigated Stair. The investigation stemmed from a video which showed Stair apparently grabbing a 12-year-old girl during a church service.

Stair was arrested in 2002 for improperly touching two female members of the church. He eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and got two 30-day terms.

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