Molestation trial ends when ranch, boys settle

Associated Press
April 5, 2003
Houston Chronicle

SAN ANTONIO - A civil trial involving a lawsuit brought against Hill Country Youth Ranch ended when a settlement was reached between the defendants and two brothers who claimed they were molested at the facility ten years ago.

District Judge John Delaney dismissed the jury after both parties agreed to the confidential deal.

The boys, along with their mother and attorneys, declined to comment on the settlement.

"The parties have decided to cease litigation and pursue healing, and the Hill Country Youth Ranch is anxious to get back to the business of healing children," defense attorney Keith Williams said in Friday's edition of the San Antonio Express-News.

The lawsuit accused the defendants of gross negligence in supervising and retaining Mark Shellenberger, a ranch house parent from 1991 to 1995.

The teenage boys claimed Shellenberger molested them during visits to "Sam's Cabin," a dorm at the ranch.

Shellenberger pleaded guilty in 1998 to sexually assaulting a ranch resident and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The boys' case was built on Shellenberger's conviction and ranch records that showed his treatment of boys raised concerns beginning in 1992.

According to the documents, Shellenberger was reprimanded several times until he was apparently forced to resign in 1995.

Gary Priour, founder of the Ingram residential facility for abused and neglected children, was also named in the suit, but wasn't in the Kerrville courtroom when the trial ended.