Thursday, November 09, 2017 2:30 pm
4 women say Senate candidate Roy Moore pursued them as teens
STEPHANIE McCRUMMEN, BETH REINHARD and ALICE CRITES | Washington Post
Leigh Corfman said she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Alabama. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recalled, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.
It was early 1979 and Moore -- now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat -- was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney.
He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother said, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.
"He said, 'Oh, you don't want her to go in there and hear all that. I'll stay out here with her,'" said Corfman's mother, Nancy Wells, 71. "I thought, 'How nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.'"
Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she said. Days later, she said, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her.
On a second visit, she said, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she said, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.
"I wanted it over with -- I wanted out," she remembers thinking. "Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over."
Corfman said she asked Moore to take her home, and he did.
Two of Corfman's childhood friends say she told them at the time that she was seeing an older man, and one said Corfman identified the man as Moore. Wells said her daughter told her about the encounter more than a decade later, as Moore was becoming more prominent as a local judge.
Aside from Corfman, three other women interviewed by the Washington Post in recent weeks said Moore pursued them when they were between the ages of 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s, episodes they say they found flattering at the time, but troubling as they got older.
None of the women said that Moore forced them into any sort of relationship or sexual contact.
Wendy Miller said she was 14 and working as a Santa's helper at the Gadsden Mall when Moore first approached her, and 16 when he asked her on dates, which her mother forbade.
Debbie Wesson Gibson said she was 17 when Moore spoke to her high school civics class and asked her out on the first of several dates that did not progress beyond kissing.
Gloria Thacker Deason said she was an 18-year-old cheerleader when Moore began taking her on dates that included bottles of Mateus Rosé wine. The legal drinking age in Alabama was 19.
Of the four women, the youngest at the time was Corfman, who is the only one who said she had sexual contact with Moore that went beyond kissing. She said they did not have intercourse.
In a written statement, Moore denied the allegations.
"These allegations are completely false and are a desperate political attack by the National Democrat Party and the Washington Post on this campaign," said Moore, now 70.
The campaign said in a subsequent statement that if the allegations were true they would have surfaced during his previous campaigns, adding "this garbage is the very definition of fake news."
None of the women have donated to or worked for Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, or his rival in the Republican primary, Luther Strange, according to campaign reports.
Corfman, 53, who works as a customer service representative at a payday loan business, said she has voted for Republicans in the past three presidential elections, including for Donald Trump in 2016.
She said she thought of confronting Moore personally for years, and almost came forward publicly during his first campaign for state Supreme Court in 2000, but decided against it. Her two children were still in school then, and she worried about how it would affect them. She also was concerned that her background -- three divorces and a messy financial history -- might undermine her credibility.
"There is no one here that doesn't know that I'm not an angel," Corfman said, referring to her hometown of Gadsden.
Corfman described her story consistently in six interviews with the Post. The Post confirmed that her mother attended a hearing at the courthouse in February 1979 through divorce records. Moore's office was down the hall from the courtroom.
Neither Corfman nor any of the other women sought out the Post. While reporting a story in Alabama about supporters of Moore's Senate campaign, a Post reporter heard that Moore allegedly had sought relationships with teenage girls.
During the ensuing three weeks, two Post reporters contacted and interviewed the four women. All were initially reluctant to speak publicly but chose to do so after multiple interviews, saying they thought it was important for people to know about their interactions with Moore. The women said they don't know one another.
"I have prayed over this," Corfman said, explaining why she decided to tell her story now. "All I know is that I can't sit back and let this continue, let him continue without the mask being removed."
This account is based on interviews with more than 30 people who said they knew Moore between 1977 and 1982, when he served as an assistant district attorney for Etowah County in northern Alabama, where he grew up.
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Moore was 30 and single when he joined the district attorney's office, his first government job after attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, serving in Vietnam, graduating from law school and working briefly as a lawyer in private practice in Gadsden, the county seat.
By his account, chronicled in his book "So Help Me God," Moore spent his time as a prosecutor convicting "murderers, rapists, thieves and drug pushers." He writes that it was "around this time that I fashioned a plaque of The Ten Commandments on two redwood tablets."
"I believed that many of the young criminals whom I had to prosecute would not have committed criminal acts if they had been taught these rules as children," Moore writes.
Outside work, Moore writes that he spent his free time building rooms onto a mobile home in Gallant, a rural area about 25 miles west of Gadsden.
According to colleagues and others who knew him at the time, Moore was rarely seen socializing outside work.
He spent one season coaching the Gallant Girls, a softball team that his teenaged sister had joined, said several women who played on the team. He spent time working out at the Gadsden YMCA, according to people who encountered him there.
And he often walked, usually alone, around the newly opened Gadsden Mall -- 6 feet tall and well-dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt, say several women who worked there at the time.
Corfman describes herself as a little lost -- "a typical 14-year-old kid of a divorced family" -- when she said she first met Moore that day in 1979 outside the courtroom. She said she felt flattered that a grown man was paying attention to her.
"He was charming and smiley," she said.
After her mother went into the courtroom, Corfman said, Moore asked her where she went to school, what she liked to do and whether he could call her sometime. She remembers giving him her number and said he called not long after.
She said she talked to Moore on her phone in her bedroom, and they made plans for him to pick her up at Alcott Road and Riley Street, around the corner from her house.
"I was kind of giddy, excited, you know? An older guy, you know?" Corfman said, adding that her only sexual experience at that time had been kissing boys her age.
She said that it was dark and cold when he picked her up, and she thought they were going out to eat. Instead, she said, he drove her to his house, which seemed "far, far away."
"I remember the further I got from my house, the more nervous I got," Corfman said.
She remembers an unpaved driveway. She remembers going inside and him giving her alcohol on this visit or the next, and that at some time she told him she was 14.
She said they sat and talked. She remembers that Moore told her she was pretty, put his arm around her and kissed her, and that she began to feel nervous and asked him to take her home, which she said he did.
Soon after, she said, he called again, and picked her up again at the same spot.
"This was a new experience, and it was exciting and fun and scary," Corfman said, explaining why she went back. "It was just like this roller-coaster ride you've not been on."
She said that Moore drove her back to the same house after dark, and that before long she was lying on a blanket on the floor. She remembers Moore disappearing into another room and coming out with nothing on but "tight white" underwear.
She remembers that Moore kissed her, that he took off her pants and shirt, and that he touched her through her bra and underpants. She says that he guided her hand to his underwear and that she yanked her hand back.
"I wasn't ready for that -- I had never put my hand on a man's penis, much less an erect one," Corfman said.
She remembers thinking, "I don't want to do this" and "I need to get out of here." She said that she got dressed and asked Moore to take her home, and that he did.
The legal age of consent in Alabama, then and now, is 16. Under Alabama law in 1979, and today, a person who is at least 19 years old who has sexual contact with someone between 12 and 16 years old has committed sexual abuse in the second degree. Sexual contact is defined as touching of sexual or intimate parts. The crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
The law then and now also includes a section on enticing a child younger than 16 to enter a home with the purpose of proposing sexual intercourse or fondling of sexual and genital parts. That is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In Alabama, the statute of limitations for bringing felony charges involving sexual abuse of a minor in 1979 would have run out three years later, and the time frame for filing a civil complaint would have ended when the alleged victim turned 21, according to Child USA, a nonprofit research and advocacy group at the University of Pennsylvania.
Corfman never filed a police report or a civil suit.
She said that after their last encounter, Moore called again, but that she found an excuse to avoid seeing him. She said that at some time during or soon after her meetings with Moore, she told two friends in vague terms that she was seeing an older man.
Betsy Davis, who remains friendly with Corfman and now lives in Los Angeles, said she clearly remembers Corfman talking about seeing an older man named Roy Moore when they were teenagers. She said Corfman described an encounter in which the older man wore nothing but tight white underwear. She said she was firm with Corfman that seeing someone as old as Moore was out of bounds.
"I remember talking to her and telling her it's not a good idea," Davis said. "Because we were so young."
A second friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job, has a similar memory of a teenaged Corfman telling her about seeing an older man.
After talking to her friends, Corfman said, she began to feel that she had done something wrong and kept it a secret for years.
"I felt responsible," she said. "I felt like I had done something bad. And it kind of set the course for me doing other things that were bad."
She said that her teenage life became increasingly reckless with drinking, drugs, boyfriends and a suicide attempt when she was 16.
As the years went on, Corfman said, she did not share her story about Moore partly because of the trouble in her life. She has had three divorces and financial problems.
While living in Arizona, she and her second husband started a screen-printing business that fell into debt. They filed for bankruptcy protection three times, once in 1991 with $139,689 in unpaid claims brought by the Internal Revenue Service and other creditors, according to court records.
In 2005, Corfman paid a fine for driving a boat without lights. In 2010, she was working at a convenience store when she was charged with a misdemeanor for selling beer to a minor. The charge was dismissed, court records show.
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The three other women who spoke to the Post said that Moore asked them on dates when they were between 16 and 18 and he was in his early 30s.
Gloria Thacker Deason said she was 18 and Moore was 32 when they met in 1979 at the Gadsden Mall, where she worked at the jewelry counter of a department store called Pizitz. She said she was attending Gadsden State Community College and still living at home.
"My mom was really, really strict and my curfew was 10:30 but she would let me stay out later with Roy," says Deason, who is now 57 and lives in North Carolina. "She just felt like I would be safe with him. . . . She thought he was good husband material."
Deason said that they dated off and on for several months and that he took her to his house at least two times. She said their physical relationship did not go further than kissing and hugging.
"He liked Eddie Rabbit and I liked Freddie Mercury," Deason said, referring to the country singer and the British rocker.
She said that Moore would pick her up for dates at the mall or at college basketball games, where she was a cheerleader.
She remembers changing out of her uniform before they went out for dinners at a pizzeria called Mater's, where she says Moore would order bottles of Mateus Rosé, or at a Chinese restaurant, where she said he would order her tropical cocktails at a time when she believes she was younger than 19, the legal drinking age.
"If Mother had known that, she would have had a hissy fit," said Deason, who said she turned 19 in May 1979, after she and Moore started dating.
Around the same time that Deason said she met Moore at the jewelry counter, Wendy Miller said that Moore approached her at the mall, where she would spend time with her mom, who worked at a photo booth there. Miller said this was in 1979, when she was 16.
She said that Moore's face was familiar because she had first met him two years before, when she was dressed as an elf and working as a Santa's helper at the mall. She said that Moore told her she looked pretty, and that two years later, he began asking her out on dates in the presence of her mother at the photo booth. She said she had a boyfriend at the time, and declined.
Her mother, Martha Brackett, said she refused to grant Moore permission to date her 16-year-old daughter.
"I'd say, 'You're too old for her . . . let's not rob the cradle,' " Brackett recalls telling Moore.
Miller, who is now 54 and still lives in Alabama, said she was "flattered by the attention."
"Now that I've gotten older," she said, "the idea that a grown man would want to take out a teenager, that's disgusting to me."
Debbie Wesson Gibson said that she was 17 in the spring of 1981 when Moore spoke to her Etowah High School civics class about serving as the assistant district attorney.
She said that when he asked her out, she asked her mother what she would say if she wanted to date a 34-year-old man. Gibson said her mother asked her who the man was, and when Gibson said, "Roy Moore," her mother said, "I'd say you were the luckiest girl in the world."
Among locals in Gadsden, a town of about 47,000 back then, Moore "had this godlike, almost deity status -- he was a hometown boy made good," Gibson said, "West Point and so forth."
Gibson said that they dated for two to three months, and that he took her to his house, read her poetry and played his guitar. She said he kissed her once in his bedroom and once by the pool at a local country club.
"Looking back, I'm glad nothing bad happened," sid Gibson, who now lives in Florida. "As a mother of daughters, I realize that our age difference at that time made our dating inappropriate."
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By 1982, Moore was by his own account in his book causing a stir in the district attorney's office for his willingness to criticize the workings of the local legal system.
He convened a grand jury to look into what he alleged were funding problems in the sheriff's office. In response, Moore writes, the state bar association investigated him for going against the advice of the district attorney, an inquiry that was dismissed.
Soon after, Moore quit and began his first political campaign for the county's circuit court judge position. He lost overwhelmingly, and left Alabama shortly thereafter, heading to Texas, where he said in his book that he trained as a kickboxer, and to Australia, where he said he lived on a ranch for a year wrangling cattle.
He returned to Gadsden in 1984 and went into private law practice. In 1985, at age 38, he married Kayla Kisor, who was 24. The two are still married.
A few years later, Moore began his rise in Alabama politics and into the national spotlight.
In 1992, he became a circuit court judge and hung his wooden Ten Commandments plaque in his courtroom.
In 2000, he was elected chief justice of Alabama's Supreme Court, and he soon installed a 5,280-pound granite Ten Commandments monument in the judicial building.
In 2003, he was dismissed from the bench for ignoring a federal court order to remove the monument, and became known nationally as "The Ten Commandments Judge."
Moore was again elected chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2012, and was again dismissed for ignoring a judicial order, this time for instructing probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
All of this has made Moore a hero to many Alabama voters, who consider him a stalwart Christian willing to stand up for their values.
In a September Republican primary race to replace the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Moore defeated the appointed sitting senator, Luther Strange, who was backed by President Trump and other party leaders in Washington. Moore faces the Democratic nominee, Doug Jones, in a special election scheduled for Dec. 12.
On a visit home in the mid-1990s to see her mother and stepfather in Alabama, Corfman said, she saw Moore's photo in the Gadsden Times.
"''Mother, do you remember this guy?'" Wells said Corfman said at the time.
That's when Corfman told her, Wells recalled. Her daughter said that not long after the court hearing in 1979, Moore took her to his house. Wells said that her daughter conveyed to her that Moore had behaved inappropriately.
"I was horrified," Wells said.
Years later, Corfman said, she saw a segment about Moore on ABC News' "Good Morning America." She said she threw up.
There were times, Corfman said, she thought about confronting Moore. At one time during the late 1990s, she said, she became so angry that she drove to the parking lot outside Moore's office at the county courthouse in Gadsden.
She sat there for a while, she said, rehearsing what she might say to him.
"'Remember me?'" she imagined herself saying.