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Alleged assault rattles metaphysical group


A misdemeanor sexual assault charge against a man who practices New Age energy healing has thrown a small, local metaphysical church into turmoil as the victim of the alleged assault accuses the group's leaders of trying to cover up the incident.

Maddie Cohen and Richard Sleght, leaders of the Spiritual Gathering, a small metaphysical church that holds meetings on the West Side, deny there was any cover-up. They both expressed doubts about the validity of the sexual assault charge.

In the meantime, the case is awash in metaphysics and bizarre accusations and counter claims that church leaders are working in "darkness," and that the victim has in the past made strange accusations against church leaders based on things she saw in a dream.

But 59-year-old Daryl Spencer, who runs an Internet public relations firm in Colorado Springs, adamantly maintains that a local "energy healer," William Ray Ayers, rubbed his penis on her arm during a session of "energy work" in mid July.

During energy healing sessions, practitioners place their hands on various parts of the body to channel healing energy. Based on Spencer's complaint, Ayers is charged with third-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor charge that could bring six months to two years in jail.

In an interview, Ayers adamantly denied Spencer's allegation, suggesting that the woman was insane and had "lost her marbles." Ayers said he plans on taking a lie-detector test that he believes will vindicate his claim of innocence.

"I think everything will be settled when the truth is known and, of course, the truth will be told in my lie-detector test," Ayers said, adding that for an unknown reason, Spencer has a "vendetta" against him.

Whether Ayers is innocent or not, the case is raising questions about how the widely misunderstood metaphysical community confronts difficult issues such as sexual assault.

Spencer claims that when she complained of the assault to Cohen and Sleght, who were ordained as ministers by a national metaphysical group called the Universal Brotherhood, the ministers refused to warn others about any potential danger.

Angered by their alleged reaction, Spencer contacted numerous media and law-enforcement agencies in an effort to bring the case to public attention. "I want this to be known so that it won't happen to someone else," Spencer told the Indy.

For their part, Cohen and Sleght agree that they have not warned anyone about Ayers. "She asked me to go to the Spiritual Gathering and bring her charges to the people in the gathering," Cohen said. "I refused to do that. I was not interested in trying a case like this in public."

Cohen suggested that one reason she didn't raise the issue with the congregation was that she has some doubts. "The biggest part of warning other people," she said, "is that you have to believe that what was alleged to have happened, actually happened."

Still, Cohen said she did follow up, asking Ayers about the incident and holding a meeting of the Spiritual Gathering's three-member board of directors. Ultimately, she said, she felt she didn't have enough evidence to publicly accuse Ayers, banish him from the group or alert others of potential danger.

But Spencer claims Cohen's refusal effectively empowers Ayers or other alleged abusers to molest with impunity. In counseling sessions after the alleged incident, Spencer claims Cohen told her the episode was a spiritual gift, part of the "divine order," a challenge of sorts to overcome.

Cohen denies she made those statements, contending that Spencer is misreading her metaphysical teachings, which are based on the idea that individuals essentially "create their own reality" and are ultimately, psychically responsible for what happens to them.

Cohen said she could not talk about issues raised in counseling with Spencer because things discussed in those sessions are confidential. But she explained that nearly all metaphysical counselors do share the idea that individuals are psychically responsible for things that happen to them.

"That idea is basic to metaphysics," Cohen said. "People who don't share that view, don't come to metaphysical counselors." Still, Cohen said she tells victims of any crime to follow the appropriate legal channels.

Moreover, Cohen said this isn't the first time that Spencer has made unusual accusations. "She told me she had a vision of [my husband] Richard in a jail suit," Cohen said of an incident that occurred before the alleged assault. "She asked me to leave Richard and move in with her. I told her, no I'm not in jail. I'm not leaving Richard."

If the case does go to trial, defense lawyers will no doubt raise still other questions about the allegation, such as how Spencer would know that Ayers was rubbing his penis on her arm; Spencer says her eyes were closed during the encounter. They may ask why Spencer didn't protest during the session.

Spencer says she has good answers. Halfway through the energy session, Spencer claims she heard Ayers unzip his pants, then she felt something "velvety" rubbing against her arm.

As for why she didn't get up and run out of the room: "I was afraid and that was exacerbated because I could not escape, because I did not have my glasses. I had taken them off for the session and I can't see without my glasses."

In the meantime, at least one other woman, a former fiance of Ayers, said that during healing sessions in 1997, Ayers touched her breast without first asking permission.

"I think what happened to me was inappropriate," said Sharon Keller, who now lives in Pueblo. "Any ethical healer would never touch there without first asking permission. It's a private part of the body."

For his part, Ayers claims he did ask for permission to touch Keller on the breast. "The reason I worked with her was that she had breast cancer," Ayers said. "I did have permission."

Keller cast doubt on that claim, however, saying that Ayers began working on her a month before she was diagnosed with the disease. A pre-trial conference on Spencer's case against Ayers is scheduled for Dec. 18.

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