Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include information about William Lloyd Karelis’ departure from Shambhala.
A Boulder County judge ruled there was enough evidence for the case against a former Shambhala teacher accused of sexually assaulting a girl he was mentoring to move to district court despite defense attorneys raising concerns about inconsistencies in the alleged victim’s statements.
William Lloyd Karelis, 71, is charged with one count of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust with a pattern of abuse, a Class 3 felony.
At a preliminary hearing Tuesday, Boulder County Judge Kristy Martinez ruled there was probable cause for the case to be moved to district court. Karelis, who is free on $10,000 bond, is now set for an arraignment on June 14, when he will be able to have his case set for trial or take a plea deal.
Prosecutors called one witness to the stand for the hearing, Boulder police Detective Ross Richart, who was assigned the case in August 2018 when the alleged victim, now in her 30s, told a friend Karelis sexually assaulted her. The friend then sent an email to police, who then interviewed the alleged victim.
Richart testified that the woman told him she first met Karelis through Shambhala in the 1990s when she was around 8, when Karelis was assigned to her as her meditation instructor.
Richart said that when the alleged victim was around 13, and she began spending weekends at Karelis’ Boulder house for teachings. She would sleep in a downstairs room at Karelis’ home, but told police Karelis would come into her room after his wife fell asleep and would perform oral sex on her.
Richart testified that the woman told police this happened 10 times over about 18 months. He said the woman could not recall exact dates and that the events “blurred together” for her, but said recalling the events appeared traumatic for her.
“She was very hesitant, very nervous,” Richart said. “She seemed fearful, extremely hesitant to talk about what had happened.”
But in cross-examination of Richart, Karelis’ attorney Paul McCormick pointed out the original email from the outcry witness contained allegations the woman told police that were not true, including that Karelis had forced her to perform oral sex on him and that he had intercourse with her. He also noted the woman’s mother only recalled her going to Karelis’ house one or two times, not the 10-plus times she described to police.
“She told her friend a different story, and now she denies it,” McCormick said. “How many times has she told different things to different people?”
McCormick also asked Martinez to rule the named victim and Richart as incredible witnesses, saying Richart called the original outcry witness about the discrepancies to get her to possibly change her story to more closely match what the alleged victim later told police.
“I think the detective is well-intentioned and is doing his job, but I don’t think you learn in the police academy that when a witness is drastically inconsistent with a victim, that you call them up and say, ‘Look, Mr. Karelis sooner or later is going to get a defense attorney and they are going to prey on these inconsistencies.
“That’s not asking for clarification, that’s asking for changes.”
McCormick called the outcry witness to the stand over the objection of prosecutors, but she told McCormick she did not feel pressured or manipulated by Richart to change her statement.
“Absolutely not,” she told McCormick.
Boulder Deputy District Attorney Megan Bradford noted it is not unusual for there to be some inconsistencies in a case this old with a young victim or for detectives to follow up on those statements with witnesses.
“Inconsistencies do not mean a lack of probable cause and do not mean incredbility,” Bradford said, noting Colorado law requires evidence in preliminary hearings be viewed “in the light most favorable to the people.”
Martinez ruled that neither the named victim nor Richart were incredible witnesses for the purposes of the preliminary hearing, and that issues of credibility or inconsistent statements were a matter for trial.
“The court is not to concern itself with conflicting testimony, and all inferences must be resolved favorable to the prosecution,” Martinez said.
Karelis resigned from Shambhala in 2009. When he was arrested in February, Shambhala’s board released a statement noting that the organization had conducted two “Care and Conduct complaint procedures” in 2002 and 2008. Both were initiated by women who alleged that Karelis had behaved inappropriately toward them. His teaching and meditation instructor credentials were suspended in 2004 and revoked in 2008 after he failed to comply with the Care and Conduct procedure, according to the statement.
“None of the complaints received by Shambhala involved minors or reports of criminal behavior,” the statement reads. “Shambhala has always and will continue to comply with mandated reporting concerning minors. We also have and will continue to cooperate with and fully support the ongoing BPD investigation.”