The gate to hell was opened in a Charleston County courtroom Wednesday morning. Former teacher, coach, foster parent, and church youth group leader Louis Neal "Skip" ReVille had come to plead guilty to 23 indictments regarding 23 boys he had molested over the course of 10 years. There was no trial, and none of the victims revealed their identities, but by the end of the court session, all of the boys' stories had been told.
Skip ReVille, a husband and father of infant triplets, used fraternity-style initiation rites to impress young boys and the Bible to win their parents' trust. By the light of day, he was a role model and confidant, but behind closed doors, he manipulated children, from ages 10 to 16, so they would help him carry out his sexual fantasies. As investigators found since arresting him in October, ReVille's appetite was insatiable: Although only 23 charges were brought, the circuit solicitor believes ReVille molested about 35 boys.
For ReVille, a decade of sin ended with a stoic confession and a 50-year prison sentence to be followed by seven years of supervision and, if he survives long enough to be released, a GPS tracking bracelet that will never leave his ankle. For his victims and their families, the fallout from his actions will also last a lifetime. The boys have wrestled with crippling anxiety, drug addiction, suicidal thoughts, and ridicule from their peers. One father wrote in a letter to the judge, "There is evil in this world, and it is sitting in your courtroom."
Attorneys and court officials read letters from victims and their parents aloud, and solicitor's office employees presented the facts from numerous police investigations. But only one of the victims, identified as John Doe 13, showed up in court to tell his own story. As the three hours of court proceedings ground onward, the victim waited on a bench in the audience, seething while his tormentor sat perhaps 15 yards away. Doe bounced his legs, wadded tissues in his hands, scribbled last-minute additions in the margins of his prepared speech notes, and stared at the back of ReVille's head as if daring him to turn around. Nearly 10 years after his youth was wrecked, John Doe 13 was still furious, and he was ready to speak.
Looking back at ReVille's career arc, it is clear that he surrounded himself with young boys at nearly every opportunity he got. In the early 2000s, he was a summer camp counselor at the Citadel, his alma mater, where he invited boys to sneak into his room under cover of night. From 2002 to 2006, he was a teacher at Pinewood Preparatory School, where he would frequently invite students to spend time with him alone at his house. From 2009 to 2011, he was the director of student ministries at Eastbridge Presbyterian Church, and from 2010 to 2011, he was assistant principal at Coastal Christian School. In court, it was even revealed that one of his victims was formerly a foster child in his care.
All along, ReVille showed a keen interest in boys' physical fitness, acting as a tennis, soccer, and basketball coach for Bishop England High School, the Mt. Pleasant Recreation Department, Rollings Middle School of the Arts, Moultrie Middle School, and a one-on-one personal training program that he started. Parents say he was a good coach, too. He got results.
It is unclear which institutions knew about ReVille's sexual exploits and covered them up. The Citadel at least knew that there were accusations being made after a former camper came forward with his story in 2007. And rather than hand those accusations over to police, the school and its attorney conducted an internal investigation, offered the accuser's family a $20,000 settlement, and then allowed ReVille to go on to work with children at Pinewood Prep. Lawsuits are pending against the Citadel and Pinewood for their alleged failure to stop ReVille when they had the chance.
Under South Carolina law, teachers, school counselors, principals, and clergy have a legal responsibility to tell police about any accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor. Parents have no such legal burden, but nonetheless, it was a group of parents who finally took the case to police.
On Oct. 22, 2011, one Mt. Pleasant mother heard from her son and his friend that ReVille had been doing inappropriate things with boys in a locker room. In court, Ninth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Debbie Herring-Lash told the story of what happened next:
"That mother, very much to her credit, did not know what to do, but what she did was go to the father of one of the people that she had heard his child was a victim. At that point in time, what she knew was about a game called the Credit Card Game where Mr. ReVille and the children would run their thumbs up each other's butts, and he had also been exposing himself.
"So she went to that parent. He spoke to his son. Then he spoke to another father, who spoke to his son, and they began talking with each other. The parents had a meeting on [Oct.] 27th.
"Meantime, Mr. ReVille had found out that it was up, that children were talking and people were going to know. One of the parents also asked a pastor to visit Mr. ReVille. At that point in time, these families thought these allegations were very minimal, and they saw him as just a fellow Christian that needed guidance."
Once ReVille knew that the parents were about to have a meeting, he sent out an e-mail to all the parents of a boys' prayer group he led. He announced that he would no longer be able to lead the group due to the responsibilities of fatherhood — his wife was on bed rest after giving birth to triplets — and then he sent individual e-mails to the parents that he knew suspected him. "Getting law enforcement involved would only draw attention to the boys, to your family, and to your church," he wrote. He asked them to let him leave town, and he offered to pay for any counseling that their children would need.
It was too late. Mt. Pleasant Police worked through the day on Oct. 27 to verify the claims being made, and they arrested him on Oct. 28. In the months to come, ReVille gave police the names of his victims. In all, the Ninth Circuit Solicitor's Office says ReVille confirmed there were about 35 cases of child sexual abuse, but only 23 could be corroborated by the victims. Some of the boys seemed to be in denial; others would not cooperate with the investigation.
But among the victims who did cooperate, the story they told — often haltingly, and sometimes only through nods of the head as detectives questioned them — was the story of a master manipulator. Many of them spoke about The Club, a group that often met at ReVille's house in Hanahan and engaged in a variety of bizarre initiation rites and sexual rituals. John Doe 1 said ReVille called it a fraternity, and its rites "made him feel really cool," according to Herring-Lash. They played the Flinch Game, where ReVille ran his hand up boys' thighs to see how long they could go without reacting. At a church lock-in, boys were made to masturbate and run around stark naked. Mr. ReVille would offer transportation for the boys, then he would open his glove compartment, take out a tube of personal lubricant, and encourage them to masturbate while he drove. ReVille fondled boys to erection, licked chocolate syrup off of their penises, and convinced them to lick peanut butter off of his own penis.
The mother of one of the victims said her son was still afraid every time he looked out the front door. She wrote with disgust about the way ReVille had cultivated her confidence in him, but she saved part of her wrath for the institutions that had allowed him to carry on with his plans. "I did not blame any of these organizations for what happened until we found out what great lengths some of them went to keep it quiet," she wrote to the judge. "For those that did not have knowledge of the crimes, they put out statements informing the public that Skip was never alone with the boys. These lies will allow future predators to prey on young boys without our knowledge. These crimes will repeat themselves if we don't acknowledge them."
Ninth Judicial Circuit Court Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she thinks state laws will change soon "so people can't duck behind or shirk their moral responsibility" in cases of child sexual abuse. Turning to John Doe 13 after he addressed the judge and said he faulted himself for failing to stop ReVille at an early stage, Wilson spoke of blame and excuses:
"Son, it is not your fault. It was not your job. There were some who had a job and who had a role, and to see those people neglect the time to stand up and the time to do something strong, something right ... reputations be damned. That opportunity was neglected. And to hear them justify it by saying, 'There was no corroboration, we didn't have enough evidence' — there's never enough evidence on day one. There's never enough evidence when Witness 1, Victim 1 comes forward on that first day. People who are not trained, who do not have the tools, and who do not have the motivation, but had the audacity to say there was no corroboration, there was no case: That's what we're here for. We have some of the best in the state, if not in the nation, in prosecution. We have law enforcement. We have the Dee Norton Children's Center. We're not the backwoods. We have every resource you can imagine in this community, and it was there, and people were discouraged from using it. And it is a true shame."
He called the group Donuts for Jesus. As the sun was rising, Skip ReVille would assemble dozens of boys at a Mt. Pleasant donut shop to study the Bible. Parents loved it. The kids woke up early to go before school started.
But at other times, in secret, ReVille convinced boys to play the Donut Game. He coerced them to masturbate together and ejaculate on a donut. Then one of the boys would have to eat the donut.
This is the sort of double life that ReVille chose to live, and parents wrote about him in the grimmest of Biblical allusions. "He is a wolf in sheep's clothing," wrote one parent. Another quoted scripture from the book of 2 Corinthians: "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."
ReVille volunteered to help lead the youth group at Eastbridge Presbyterian Church, and young Christian boys said they wanted to grow up to be just like him, while their parents wrote off his extensive one-on-one time with the boys as a sign of commitment to their sons' spiritual growth. One parent remembers ReVille constantly asking, "How can I pray for your son?" He knew the boys' weaknesses, struggles, and secrets.
The father of John Doe 4, a boy who attended Coastal Christian School when ReVille was an administrator there, had this to say to the judge in a letter about Donuts for Jesus: "How God must have smiled to see so many children looking and seeking after the Word. I wonder if God knew that Skip was actively leading some of these children to slaughter."
There was little talk of forgiveness in the courtroom. The victims and parents asked the judge to show no mercy, and they almost unanimously called for a maximum sentence — a life sentence, if possible.
"We do not accept apologies."
"He hid behind the cross around his neck and the Citadel ring on his finger."
"There will be no forgiveness for Mr. ReVille by me. I know that God wants me to, but I cannot find it in my heart to do it."
When ReVille finally spoke his piece, he did not couch his confession in religious language. He said he was sorry, and he left it at that:
"I am sorry for what I've done. I want to make it clear to the victims, the parents of the victims, the schools and organizations where I have been, that I am the only one responsible for my actions. I am the only one guilty of any wrongdoing. And I am the only one to blame for the pain and suffering of the victims, their families, and the community have had to go through. I'm sorry for disappointing so many people."
In the reams of paperwork released by the Citadel after it was revealed that they had investigated claims of sexual misconduct made against ReVille in 2007, one illuminating detail rose to the surface: Back in the early 2000s, when ReVille was a counselor at the Citadel summer camp, he went to the chapel every morning. That was in the days of his earliest known offenses, when he lured young campers to his dormitory room with pizza and Chinese food and then coerced them to watch pornography on his computer and masturbate with him. Only God knows what he prayed about in those quiet morning hours.
"Mr. ReVille, you need to look up. You need to look at me while I speak. You understand me? Skippy?"
With these words, John Doe 13 launched into his own account of how Skip ReVille derailed his life in 2003. Judge R. Markley Dennis cautioned him to address the judge's stand, not the defendant's stand. ReVille, who had kept his head slightly bowed through most of the proceedings up to this point, looked up and returned the gaze of one of his first known victims, a man now 25 years old.
"Mr. ReVille spent over two years — two full years — three, three-a-week sessions at a summer camp grooming me without a single hint of any perverse intention. He took his time. He wrote me letters. He put wax on the — you know, his seal, the R, whatever it was. He really took his time, and unfortunately today I am known as John Doe No. 13 because of him.
"I was a very religious young man growing up. Meeting him, you know, I thought he was my role model. I saw myself as his right-hand man, his right-hand man. I wanted to be him." Nowadays, he said, he is outside the flock, an atheist, "but I'm OK with that."
He did not go into detail about what ReVille actually did to him, but he did recall going to ReVille's house at ages 17 and 18, when ReVille seemed to have lost sexual interest in him, and seeing him take younger boys to his room to watch pornography and masturbate. At age 19, Doe started using drugs to cope with the memories, trying cocaine before ending up with a heroin habit. As his life spiraled out of control, his parents wanted to send him to ReVille. "They wanted to send me to Skip to fix me, because they knew how much I looked up to him."
Doe carries feelings of guilt for not stopping ReVille back in 2003, before he went on to molest other boys. Tormented by that guilt, he tried to commit suicide in Florida, fashioning a noose and hanging himself in a bathroom. But the light fixture he was hanging from broke, and police broke down the bathroom door. Under the state's Baker Act, they detained him and sent him to get treatment at a mental institution. Today, he is not receiving any counseling. "I don't know if I'm going to survive this," he said. "To be completely honest, suicide is not exactly out of the question."
In written testimony, other victims and their parents spoke about similar feelings of crushing guilt. ReVille molested John Doe 4 in his car, in a school, and on church property, and when that truth came to light, he told his father, "Daddy, I should have done something. If I had done something, none of the other kids would have had to suffer." The father wrote that when his son entered his freshman year of high school, he dealt with fresh torments: "My 14-year-old was forced to turn the other cheek when a classmate pushed a newspaper to his face and said, 'Does this scare you? Tell me, does this scare you?' The picture on the front page of the Monday paper was Skip ReVille."
Scarlett Wilson, who coordinated ReVille's prosecution with police and attorneys, said that while ReVille did cooperate with police, he was working from the start to save his own skin.
"He was more methodical than we were," Wilson said. "And he epitomized evil. He epitomized what the Devil can do."
ReVille chose to waive certain rights that are guaranteed in the American judicial system. In the first case, he never requested a chance at posting bail after being arrested in October. He also passed on the opportunity to be tried in Berkeley and Dorchester counties, where he committed many of his crimes. And finally, when he answered every charge brought against him with "Guilty, your Honor," he passed up on a chance at a trial before a jury of his peers.
He pleaded guilty to all 23 indictments and received the maximum sentence on most of them. The charges consisted of multiple instances of performing a lewd act on a minor, disseminating obscene material to a minor, criminal solicitation of a minor, and first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. The sentences were concurrent, so the total length of his sentence is equal to that of his most serious charge, first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor. He could have received anywhere from 25 years to life on that charge.
ReVille is required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole, meaning he could potentially be out of prison at age 75. But because of a South Carolina law that provides for special handling of sexually violent predators, he might end up effectively serving a life sentence. He will have to conform to the Sexually Violent Predator Act, a South Carolina law passed in 1998 that provides for the involuntary commitment of mentally abnormal sexual predators to state mental hospitals. Starting 270 days prior to ReVille's release, a court-appointed expert will evaluate whether he can safely re-enter the free world. If ReVille is found to be a sexually violent predator at that time, he will be committed to an intensive treatment program through the S.C. Department of Mental Health, and his mental status will be reviewed every year to determine whether it is safe to release him. If he is ever set free, he will have to update his photo and registration with the South Carolina Sex Offender Registry every 90 days.
After the court hearing ended, Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson called Judge Dennis' decision "a smart sentence."
"Obviously, I think the victims probably hoped for a life sentence, but I think the court responded to the level of cooperation and the fact that a trial was spared," Wilson said.
Dr. William Burke, a counselor who treats and analyzes sexual predators at his Summerville office, said that the current consensus among psychiatrists is that there is no cure for pedophilia — it can only be treated and contained. Burke, who has spent more than 50 hours with ReVille, did shed some light on the possible origins of his patient's sexual urges: When ReVille was in the third grade, a teacher told him to strip his clothes off and then sketched him in the nude.
"Unfortunately, Mr. ReVille — according to him — he experienced that as pleasurable because he had an adult male giving some attention to him. And then some 18 months later, his best friend of the same age that was a grade ahead of him brought home a sex education pamphlet from school. And from that began a series of presentations between him and his friends that expanded out to other boys his age.
"So what we have is someone who certainly appears to be biologically predisposed to be attracted heterosexually to adult females, but due to repetitive autoerotic behavior and behavior among his peers for a number of years, he has developed a deep-felt arousal for children."
One unusual part of ReVille's case, according to Burke, was that he preyed on children from solid, protective families. Usually, sexual predators target kids who feel outcast and alone, but ReVille went for children whose parents were heavily involved with their children's lives.
In other ways, ReVille was just like any other child sex criminal. "The unfortunate reality is he's about average," Burke said. "Most child molesters have about 35 victims."
Wilson, reflecting on the verdict after the courtroom cleared out, said ReVille might never walk free again. “If he makes it to age 74 and his 85 percent is up, if he goes through the Sexually Violent Predator proceeding, the chances are he’s going to be deemed a predator, and they’re not going to let him out until he’s cured,” Wilson said. “And there is no cure.”