Kaplan Guilty of Sex Assaults on Six Girls from Ex-Amish Family
Lee Donald Kaplan, the self-styled religious seer who ingratiated himself into a struggling Amish family with cash and prophecies, was convicted this afternoon of sexually assaulting six young sisters from that family at his Feasterville home.
A Bucks County Common Pleas Court jury of nine men and three women deliberated for nine hours over two days before finding Kaplan guilty on all counts -- 17 separate sex crimes including child rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual assault and indecent assault.
Kaplan rocked in his chair, his arms in his lap, as the verdicts were read, looking dejected. As jurors were polled individually, he shook his head slightly in disagreement.
"The verdict was perfect and just," District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said. "Thank you to Deputy District Attorney Kate Kohler and the entire prosecution team for virtually ensuring that Kaplan will never victimize anyone ever again."
No sentencing date has been set. President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley, who presided over the trial, revoked Kaplan's bail and delayed sentencing until the Pennsylvania Sexual Offenders Assessment Board can evaluate Kaplan, 52, and recommend whether he meets the criteria to be declared a sexually violent predator.
The verdicts affirmed the accounts of all six victims, now ages 19 to 9, who reluctantly testified that Kaplan began sexually assaulting them early in childhood, progressing in all but one case to vaginal or anal intercourse.
"We are so proud of the girls and their bravery," said Kohler, the lead prosecutor in the case, after jurors announced their decision. "We commend the jury for their attentiveness and their verdict. Justice has prevailed."
The victims' accounts were among those of 19 witnesses called to testify in the trial, which began May 31. Kaplan presented no defense, other than his attorney’s argument.
Each victim considered herself Kaplan’s “wife,” according to the defendant’s interpretation of divine will. All testified that they still love Kaplan and bear him no ill will.
"I pray for them. I hope that they can overcome" what they have been through, Kohler said.
The eldest sister, now 19, gave birth to two children by Kaplan, beginning at age 14. When first arrested in June 2016, Kaplan was charged only with sex crimes related to her.
But last fall, an angst-ridden older brother of the victims came forward and provided prosecutors with copies of letters that the girls’ mother, Savilla Stoltzfus, had written to their father, Daniel Stoltzfus, in 2013.
The brother, 22-year-old Jacob Stoltzfus, said that he had found the letters in his father’s bedroom and secretly photocopied them as proof of his growing suspicions about Kaplan’s motives.
The letters, written after most female members of the family had moved from Lancaster County to Kaplan’s home on Old Street Road, disclosed that the couple’s daughters were having sex with Kaplan – as was Savilla Stoltzfus.
"Jacob has been amazing," Kohler said. "He came forward and was so brave in doing so."
Until then, the Stoltzfuses and their daughters had lied to cover up most of Kaplan’s crimes. But after Jacob Stoltzfus blew the whistle, Savilla Stoltzfus summoned her daughters in October and told them to tell authorities the truth.
That conversation was recorded by detectives with her approval and was played in court.
In closing arguments Monday morning, defense attorney Ryan Hyde accused Savilla Stoltzfus of enlisting her children to lie about Kaplan as a means of helping her to get out of prison sooner. Savilla and Daniel Stoltzfus have entered pleas to child endangerment charges and are awaiting sentencing.
“Someone did tell these kids what to say,” Hyde argued. “Their mom.”
Moreover, Hyde told the jury, investigators and prosecutors did not carefully scrutinize the girls’ motives for changing their stories in October. He said the girls were questioned by prosecutors and detectives not experienced in interviewing child sex victims, instead of by a better-trained and more dispassionate interrogator.
“Somebody got to these witnesses, ladies and gentlemen,” Hyde argued. “They’re making it up because they want to get Mom out of jail.”
Kohler angrily refuted Hyde’s statements, calling his suggestions “insulting.”
“Nobody wanted to discover more victims,” she told the jurors in her closing argument. “Nobody wanted to know that more children had been raped.”
Rather, she said, the girls had finally broken through a perverted worldview that Kaplan had created and in which he had immersed them.
“In that world, child rape is the norm,” Kohler told the jury. “Sex with children is ordained by God.”
Kaplan had befriended and financially supported the family almost two decades ago, when the Stoltzfuses were leaving the Amish faith. The move decimated them financially when their former religious brethren shunned them and ceased to do business with Daniel Stoltzfus’s metal fabrication and scrapping business.
Kaplan at first moved into the Stoltzfus’s home, later returning to Feasterville and opening his own house to female members of the family. It was far from an act of charity, Kohler said.
“They existed for one reason and one reason alone,” she told the jury. “And that was to satisfy him, whenever he wanted and in whatever way he wanted.”
Incredibly, Savilla Stoltzfus saw her daughters constantly coming and going from Kaplan’s bedroom and did not object. She testified that she, too, began having sex with Kaplan, thinking it would somehow help mend her troubled marriage.
“Savilla Stoltzfus is easy to hate,” Kohler said. “But she has had her day in court. She has pleaded guilty for what she allowed to happen.”
Kohler pointed to DNA evidence establishing Kaplan’s paternity of the oldest sister’s daughters as undeniable proof of his guilt in that case, regardless of the victim’s claim that they were spiritually married.
As for evidence that the others’ stories were not concocted in the fall of 2016, Kohler pointed to the letters their brother turned over – written in 2013 by their own mother.
“Read those letters, ladies and gentlemen,” Kohler told the jurors. “And you will know all you need to know about what was going on at 428 Old Street Road.”
The case was investigated by the Lower Southampton Township Police Department and the Bucks County Detectives, and prosecuted by Kohler and Assistant District Attorney Rose McHugh.
Contact: Kate Kohler, 215.348.6327, email@example.com