Eight years ago a Tennessee chancery court judge concluded a mentally disabled couple needed a court-appointed conservator because they couldn’t take care of their most basic needs.
Now the family friend given control over every aspect of their lives stands charged with rape by an authority figure, three counts of sexual battery and theft of more than $60,000.
Those charges were filed last month in a criminal case in Clay County Circuit Court against Walter Strong, 66, of Celina. Strong was released on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Aug. 14. Asked if his client would be entering a not guilty plea, Strong’s attorney Jack Lowery said, “absolutely,” but declined further comment.
The charges come at a time when conservatorships are under increased scrutiny in Tennessee, prompting the General Assembly to pass a new law requiring increased disclosure by those seeking to place a person under the control of a conservator. A legislative panel is set to consider additional changes over the summer.
In a separate civil suit filed in U.S. District Court, Craig Fickling, the attorney for the couple, has charged that Strong treated the couple’s funds “as if they were his own,” embezzled just under $100,000 and coerced the woman into performing sexual intercourse.
The Tennessean does not name victims of sexual abuse.
Court records show that the couple were placed in the conservatorship on Aug. 19, 2004, by now-retired Judge Vernon Neal when Strong and a now-deceased sister of the woman filed a petition in Clay County Chancery Court. According to the suit, the wife was born with a mental disability and the husband suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1994.
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Conservator Charged with Raping Woman, Stealing From Couple