Bill Murdock, head of Eblen Charities in Asheville, N.C., was a school teacher in the 1980s when he was charged with a sex crime involving a teenage student. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge but says he's innocent.

Charity leader retires days after CNN reveals details of sex crime charge

Updated 2:52 PM ET, Fri March 22, 2019

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Asheville, North Carolina (CNN)The executive director of a prominent North Carolina charity is leaving his post after a CNN investigation this week detailed the account of a 47-year-old woman who says he sexually abused her when she was his teenage student.

Bill Murdock, 63, made the decision to retire from Eblen Charities Thursday, according to a statement issued by the Eblen board. He led the organization, one of western North Carolina's largest non-profits, since its beginning nearly three decades ago.
Murdock also resigned from the board of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College Friday.
He was charged with a felony sex crime in 1988 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. He maintains he is innocent and says he took the plea deal on the advice of his lawyer, who cited the high cost of a defense and said he couldn't guarantee an acquittal.
After CNN's investigation was published Tuesday, some community leaders in Asheville called for him to resign from Eblen. The story also revealed the dubious and exaggerated achievements Murdock touted that elevated him to a position of power and prestige in this tourist mecca nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"This feels like a relief," said Shelley Love Baldwin, upon learning of Murdock's departure. Baldwin gave her account of abuse for the first time to CNN. "I feel that justice has been served for the community."
    At the charity office before his announcement to leave, Murdock told a CNN reporter, "My plans are seeing what, what's going to happen with the board and all." The board met Thursday but members refused to speak afterward to CNN. The statement says Murdock would assist in the transition to interim leadership. "The Board expresses its appreciation for Bill's many years of dedicated service to Eblen Charities and the people of Western North Carolina."
    Just last week, the Eblen board issued a statement standing by Murdock. It came after CNN informed the University of North Carolina at Asheville of its findings and the board of trustees rescinded an honorary degree given to Murdock in 2018. Murdock had "proven himself worthy of continued employment," the statement said. "We continue to stand in support of Bill Murdock."
    Eblen board members did not return messages seeking comment on Murdock's retirement or whether he would receive a compensation package.
    The assistant director of Eblen Charities, Susan Riddle, said Friday, "We are all very sad. But we're committed to our clients and the work of Eblen Charities and that's what we are going to do is get back about business."
    Baldwin said Murdock methodically groomed her in the eighth grade and sexually abused her throughout the ninth grade. Two former classmates who read her story on CNN came forward Thursday to support her. They said they observed the close contact with Murdock that Baldwin described and said that they believe her account.
    Baldwin's story also was supported by her family members, a third former classmate and two medical professionals in whom she confided. She and her family gave a vastly different account than the one Murdock has told for years -- that he is innocent despite his plea of guilty to a reduced charge.
    Murdock denies the abuse and some of the family's allegations. He said he could not recall other scenarios the family describes.
    Baldwin's account has resonated throughout much of Asheville, dominating local news coverage and coffee shop conversations.
      Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards called Murdock's departure "the right thing for the community....He did plead guilty," she said. "And no matter how much time passes ... it doesn't decrease the breach of trust that our community is feeling right now."
      A court document shows Bill Murdock pleaded guilty to misdemeanor liberties with children.
      Murdock's resignation from the A-B Tech board came amid calls for his removal from some of his colleagues. Board member Ron Edgerton said he "sent out a rather tense email to a number of board members telling them that either they do something, or I would through Gov. (Roy) Cooper."
      "The details of the [CNN] report are damning," Edgerton said.
      In his resignation letter to the chairwoman, Murdock called his time on the board "a great honor."
      "I have been thinking for some time about what direction to go regarding the board seat that I currently hold," Murdock wrote, "and have decided to relinquish my seat as I don't want the distractions of the past few weeks to interfere with the tremendous work of the board of trustees and that of the college."
      CNN's investigation showed Murdock earned respect with a resumé built in part on exaggerated and dubious achievements.
      One award that has burnished his image, the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership, came from a company he incorporated out of his home. He claims an educational background from several of the country's most prestigious universities -- including Harvard and Stanford, where his attendance consisted of one-week courses in nonprofit management.
      Eblen's website and Murdock's book covers and bio claim the Eblen Children's Pharmacy won the Peter F. Drucker Award in 2001 for being "the most innovative nonprofit program in the country." Laura Roach, who administers the prize, told CNN she could find no record of Eblen winning.
        Murdock was arrested on August 10, 1988, and charged with felony indecent liberties with children -- taking "immoral, improper and indecent liberties with Shelly (sic) Love" and committing a "lewd and lascivious act" on her. Sixteen days later, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge listed on the official court record as "misdemeanor liberties with children."
        The quick disposition and the language of the reduced charge struck a North Carolina law professor and three former county district attorneys as odd. They said that misdemeanor charge did not exist.
        "It appears that they just decided to call a felony offense a misdemeanor. How you get there from here, I have no idea," said Rebecca Knight, a former Buncombe County sex crimes prosecutor and retired district court judge.
        Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams told CNN Thursday that Baldwin has contacted his office, and he will meet with her and members of her family if they want.
        "I would encourage any other people who've read CNN's article who have information to come forward," Williams said, adding they can contact his office, the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office or Asheville's Family Justice Center.
        Some people in the community said it is important how Asheville responds to the revelations about Murdock's past and exaggerated accomplishments.
        "A community's first reaction is wanting to not believe that the person that they trusted is capable of causing such an act of violence," said Angelica Wind, executive director of Our Voice, Buncombe County's rape crisis and prevention center.
        "We cannot give power to sexual violence by silencing survivors," she said. "How a community responds to a disclosure unequivocally sets the tone as to whether other survivors come out of the shadows."
        Shelley Love Baldwin was a middle school student when her teacher Bill Murdock inappropriately touched her, she says.
        Tami Ruckman, the director of development for Eliada Homes, an Asheville non-profit that works with foster children, says she used to be a social worker.
          She said Baldwin's story was "eerily familiar" to what she has heard sexual abuse victims recount.
          "The victim is always in the place of accusing someone of something nobody else could fathom that they would ever do," Ruckman said. "Her story just sounds dead on, to me."
          Murdock has told people over the years that the victim's mother came on to him, he rejected her and she then falsely accused him. He denied to CNN that he sexually abused Baldwin.
          Speaking Wednesday before the decision, Ruckman stressed the good work of Eblen Charities but said Murdock should resign. The organization is "incredibly important to this community," she said.
          Two former classmates of Baldwin's who read CNN's investigation said their teacher showered Baldwin with attention.
          "Honestly, I don't remember a moment that they weren't together. ... He would sit on her desk and he'd lean across," recalled Casey Clark, an eighth-grade classmate. "She was his assistant in everything. And it was awkward. As an eighth-grader, you're like, 'OK, that's weird. I don't want any of that.'"
          Baldwin told CNN that Murdock would give her his clothes to wear. It is a detail that Murdock denied happened. Clark said she remembered it.
          "She did wear his coat," Clark recalled. "And he would, like, drape his coat over her."
          A young Bill Murdock, right, wrote to Shelley in her 1986 yearbook. She says he was grooming her then and would later abuse her.
          Clark said she had no trouble believing Murdock sexually abused Baldwin.
          She "was so sweet and so quiet," said Clark, "that she was the perfect kind of target ... she wasn't going to say anything."
          "She...was just his shadow."
          Her husband, Andrew Clark, was a student of Murdock's in 10th grade and remembers how odd it was that Baldwin, a ninth grader, would sit in class even though she was not actually taking the course. "We were all sort of confused by that," he said.
          "She would have on his sports coat during the class," he recalled, adding that Murdock and the teenager acted "very close."
          Students taunted her, he said.
          "'Oh, she's teacher's pet,' just sort of teenage jargon -- 'I think they're doing it,'" Andrew Clark recalled.
          He, too, believes Baldwin.
          "In hindsight, we all kind of knew ... because my impression was this had happened. I'm just disgusted by the whole situation. ... I think he's guilty."