WALTERBORO — The embattled preacher of a secluded Christian ministry accused of sexually assaulting multiple women and children in his congregation was granted $750,000 bail Wednesday.
It marked Ralph Gordon Stair's first court appearance since waiving his initial bond hearing after his December arrest.
Stair, 84, is charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, one count of kidnapping, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of second-degree assault and battery, and one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor.
Circuit Judge Perry Buckner set bail even as prosecutors argued Stair should not be released and, if he were, that it be $1 million.
Stair did not speak during the one-hour hearing.
Defense attorney Jack Swerling argued for lower bail and for the preacher to be allowed to return to the self-sustaining compound where each of the alleged crimes were committed.
Stair was still in the Colleton County jail late Wednesday and will be allowed to return to the compound once he posts bail.
"I have been out there myself ... and I think it's an amazing place, completely self-sufficient," Swerling told the judge.
As for the followers who remain living there "they really want him back and trust his guidance," he said.
At least eight to 10 minors are living on the compound, Assistant Solicitor Sean Thornton said.
As for the conditions of his release, Stair may not have any contact with the alleged victims, witnesses or anyone younger than 18. He's also not permitted to leave Overcomer, will be electronically monitored and must ensure law enforcement has "complete and unfettered access" to the property, the judge said.
His alleged victims no longer live at the site.
Both sets of attorneys declined further comment after the hearing.
Before Buckner delivered his ruling, one of the women who accused Stair of sexual assault implored the judge not to allow him to be released and return to Overcomer.
"He has a lot of control there," said the woman, who The Post and Courier is not identifying. "If something were to happen there, no one would say anything."
For more than three decades, members of the Overcomer Ministry have been drawn to the 130-plus-acre swath of land by Stair's preachings that were broadcast to radio station around the world. The radio sermons, which were the ministry's greatest expenditure and recruiting mechanism, have since been discontinued in Stair's absence.
Four women previously interviewed by The Post and Courier described incidents ranging from groping to rape they said occurred in Overcomer Ministry’s radio room, dining hall and mobile homes on the rural property tucked off S.C. Highway 61.
The behavior described to the newspaper by these women typically began with hugging and later escalated. Stair, they said, told several women the alleged sexual acts were "God's will," and threatened eviction from the compound if they did not comply.
Members of Overcomer Ministry, who Stair dubbed "the saints," surrender their money, possessions and often sever contact with people outside the compound as they await the second coming of Christ.
Local, state and federal authorities, including officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, raided Overcomer Ministry on Dec. 18 where roughly five dozen people worship and live off the land.
Several of Stair's supporters sat in court Wednesday as the preacher, who called himself the "Last Day Prophet of God," was led in and out of courtroom doors in shackles.