CALDWELL — A 48-year-old Canyon County man accused of molesting five children over two decades has reached a plea deal with prosecutors.
Lester Kester pleaded guilty to five counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than age 16 in court Wednesday.
Kester was charged in July with four felony counts of lewd conduct with a child younger than 16. In October, he was charged with a fifth count of lewd conduct with a child younger than 16 after another child came forward. He faced up to life in prison on each count if convicted.
Third Judicial District Judge Bradly Ford accepted Kester’s guilty plea after explaining that Kester was waiving some rights. Ford asked Kester directly if he did, in fact, commit these crimes.
“Yes, your honor,” Kester told the judge. Kester outlined the type of sexual abuse that occurred with each victim, including touching the victims’ genitals with his mouth and hands.
The sexual abuse occurred between 1997 and 2018, according to the charges filed in July. An investigation into the abuse began in June, after the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare was contacted about possible child molestation.
Under the law Kester is charged under, a person guilty of the crime must have committed it “with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires” of themselves. When Ford asked Kester if he committed the crime for that purpose, Kester said no, he intended to gratify the child.
When pressed by Ford on the comment, Kester admitted his actions were done to satisfy both “myself and the child.”
Canyon County deputy prosecutor Erica Kallin said in court that pursuant to the plea agreement, the state will not be filing additional charges against Kester for possible possession of sexually exploitative material. The state will recommend a fixed term of six years in prison if an evaluator determines Kester is a “low risk” for reoffending. The state is free to argue for a longer indeterminate sentence.
The defense may argue for a shorter indeterminate sentence.
The court is not bound by the agreement, so Ford is free to fashion whatever sentence he sees fit and does not have to follow the attorneys’ recommendations.
Kester’s wife, Sarah, 50, was accused of knowing about the alleged abuse and not reporting it. She was charged with felony injury to a child. Sarah Kester pleaded guilty through an Alford plea last month. In an Alford plea, she does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a jury to convict her.
“Sarah Kester told detectives that she didn’t report the abuse because it was against her belief system to involve agencies such as law enforcement, child protection services, or counseling services” into personal matters, according to a release from the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office. “Instead, she said she attempted to protect (the) children through praying for ‘the demon’ to leave Lester and attempting to keep him busy with other tasks.”
The Kesters are members of the Followers of Christ and believe in “faith healing,” which involves praying to cure ills rather than seeking help from doctors or law enforcement officials, the Statesman reported in July.
Sarah Kester is set for sentencing at 9 a.m. Jan. 16 for her role in the crime. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
Lester Kester faces up to life in prison for each count of lewd conduct with a child younger than age 16. He is set for sentencing at 1 p.m. Jan. 23.