Man accused of molesting girls at Mansfield church faces trial after nearly 2 decades – CBS Dallas/Fort Worth

COUNTY OF TARRANT (CBSDFW.COM) – The trial began on February 8 for Benjamin Cole, the man accused of molesting teenagers at a church in Mansfield nearly two decades ago. He is charged with two counts of indecency with a child.

The two victims, now adults, first spoke about the alleged abuse in a 2018 interview with CBS 11 News.

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“Really hard,” said Marybeth Arnold, describing the consequences of speaking out. “I think if we knew we were going in there, I think it would have been harder to make that decision. But, we went into that feeling like we had no other choice, because even if people had not protected us, we now had the choice to protect others.

(credit: CBSDFW.COM)

Arnold and Amanda Hodson say they decided to speak out about being assaulted after learning that Cole had been convicted that year of possession of child pornography and online solicitation of a minor. They say they realized then that what was happening to them were not isolated incidents and that there could be other victims.

“I’m grateful to have the chance to sit in court and look him in the face and tell him what he did to me,” Marybeth Arnold said before entering court.

“I feel really good, not lucky to be here, but we know it’s been a very long process to get here,” agreed Amanda Hodson.

Hodson was the first and only witness to testify on the first day of the trial. She described growing up as a member of Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, a close-knit community of about 200 people who homeschooled their children, preached obedience in church and rarely socialized with strangers.

Cole’s family, she testified, joined the church when she was 10 and became close to her family – even vacationing with them. When she was 14, she attended a religious camp where Cole, then 20, served as a counselor. At camp, she told jurors, he first touched her by putting his hand on her leg.

Later, while communicating via AOL Instant Messenger, she said Cole started asking her to stand outside the window of his house and take off some clothes, while he watched from outside. She said she tried to distance herself but got scared.

In 2005, Hodson said, her older sister got engaged and Amanda, then 16, was assigned to serve as a chaperone while her sister visited her fiancé in her apartment. Amanda testified Cole, who was then 22, would also be at the apartment. There it was, she said, he groped her, shoving his hand down her pants.

“That’s when he started making threats that no one would ever love me like he loved me,” she said.

She recalled the last time the two were alone together, she said: ‘He was asking me to do something I didn’t want to do and I started to get upset,’ she said declared.

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Cole, she said, grabbed her brother-in-law’s gun. “That’s when he said if I wasn’t going to be with him, he was going to kill himself,” she said.

Hodson said she became frantic and ran downstairs to her sister, who then left with her.

After speaking with her parents, Amanda said she was told to meet the three pastors who formed the leadership of Heritage Baptist at the time. “I remember telling them there was physical contact that I didn’t want,” she said. In response, she said, she was counseled on what she had done.

“It was basically just talking about what I had done that made me deserve this. They told me it was because I was disobedient. As a result, she said, her parents removed clothes from his closet. “They said everyone was going to know it was my fault that I wore those clothes.”

The already conservative dresses she wore, she said, were replaced by longer dresses with higher necklines. Amanda then left the church and became estranged from her parents.

Amanda Hodson (L) and Marybeth Arnold (R). (credit: CBS 11 News)

Learning of Cole’s arrest in 2018, she messaged Marybeth, who was a close childhood friend. “I said, ‘I don’t know if anything happened to you. But I know what happened to me,” she recalls.

Marybeth, she said, confirmed to her that she also had an experience with Cole. “We started to wonder if we could live with ourselves if we didn’t say anything,” Hodson said.

On the same day the pair interviewed with CBS 11 in 2018, she and Marybeth went to the Mansfield Police Department to file an abuse report. The two have filed charges against church leaders, who they say failed to report the suspected child sexual abuse. Due to the statute of limitations, police said, they were unable to bring a case against the church.

“For most people, church is a place where you can find community and feel safe. But it won’t be the church we hear about in this case. Thanks to a man,” a prosecutor said in his opening statements, pointing to Cole.

By the end of the trial, he said, the jury will have heard from both victims, Hodson’s sister, the detective handling their case and an expert in the dynamics of child sexual abuse — like victim grooming.

Defense attorney Benson Varghese, however, warned that the state would not be able to prove the allegations were true. “The question before you will be: has the state eliminated all reasonable doubt? ” he said.

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Benjamin Cole’s trial resumes Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.

Jerry B. Hatch