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The widow of the Kentucky preacher-turned-politician who killed himself after he was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage girl claimed on Friday that he was brought down by a “lynch mob funded by out-of-state money."
The aim of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting (KyCIR), which did the expose of State Rep. Dan Johnson, was to “crucify him,” his widow, Rebecca, said on "Today."
And the accusation that Johnson has sexually assaulted then 17-year-old Maranda Richmond on New Year’s Eve 2012 “wasn’t true,” she added.
“It’s really an outrageous, unfounded accusation, and there has never been a criminal investigation,” she said. “We didn’t even know about this until it came out.”
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Not true, said Stephen George, the executive of Louisville Public Media, which owns the investigative news site. He said they stand by their reporting, including that police did a cursory investigation of the accusation in April 2013 but did not charge the preacher. He said they gave Dan Johnson repeated opportunities to address the allegation.
“We shared our condolences with Rep. Johnson’s family, friends, constituents and church community,” George wrote in an email to NBC News. “Our story is based on more than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of public documents, which are posted online along with our investigation. Readers can see the reporting and documentation for themselves.”
George added that “90 percent of our funding comes from our community.”
In the wake of the KyCir story, the Louisville Metro Police Department reopened the Richmond rape investigation. Also, Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher called for an internal probe into how the LMPD handled the case.
The back-and-forth came two days after Johnson, a 57-year-old Republican who represented mostly rural Bullitt County, killed himself with a gunshot to the head — and after he denied molesting Richmond.
Johnson, the self-styled “bishop” of the Heart of Fire Church south of Louisville, was a controversial figure before his suicide and first made headlines while running for office when he posted racist remarks online about former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.
Among other things, Johnson claimed on his church website that he had once raised a woman "from the dead" and that he set up a morgue near 9/11's Ground Zero and blessed the bodies that were removed from the ruins of the World Trade Center.
“This man gave his life to our country on 9/11 when everybody else was running out of Ground Zero,” Rebecca Johnson said Friday. “He was in Manhattan and he ran into the mess.”
Johnson, she said, was asked by the New York Police Department to set up a morgue at a destroyed Brooks Brothers store “and he stayed there and worked and received body parts and prayed for the first responders.”
The widow, who said Johnson suffered from PTSD and breathing problems as a result of 9/11, also insisted he was given “a pass that was full access to all over New York.”
“There was very few of those badges given out,” she said.
The NYPD did immediately respond to request for corroboration of the widow’s claims. But the Rev. Storm Swain, who wrote a book about the temporary mortuary at Ground Zero, said, “It is highly unlikely that any civilian would be asked to set up a morgue, something no civilian would have jurisdiction to do, let alone a clergy person.”
“I think it is possible that the Reverend Johnson was asked to 'help,'” Swain wrote in an email to NBC News. “His claims of being asked to set up a morgue seem inconsistent with what I know of NYPD, medical examiner and hospital procedure."
Rebecca Johnson did not address the substance of the KyCIR report, but called it “unfair” and said “my husband would be alive right now had it not been for that article.”
“All it did was rally a circus of media on him and literally got to the point where he felt, ‘I can’t do anything right, I’m not good enough,’” she said. “They threw everything at him but the kitchen sink.”