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'Horse Whisperer' arrested in sex assaults on teen girls

Published January 21, 2009 at 5 p.m.

A respected Kiowa horse-trainer has been arrested for sexually exploiting five girls and investigators suspect there are more victims.

"We have strong belief that there are other victims out there," said Elbert County sheriff's Investigator Mark Wilson, encouraging people to come forward.

"We stand ready to get them the help that they need," he added, including counseling support.

Donald Lane Betts, 33, was arrested at his Wildwood Place home on the night of Dec. 19 after he returned from allegedly illegally marrying a 16-year-old girl in Alabama, Wilson said.

He's accused of telling an Alabama magistrate the girl was 18 to skirt a state law requiring parental consent for a minor to marry, the investigator said.

Until the arrest, Betts was "very well known up and down the Front Range as a horse-trainer and horse-shoer," Wilson said. "He's kind of like the 'Horse Whisperer,'" the investigator said, referring to the popular novel and later movie starring Robert Redford as a horse-trainer with a gift for taming wild steeds.

"He's very, very good. He has lot of people who truly like him and speak well of him," Wilson said. "Unfortunately, they don't understand what he's been involved in."

Betts did not go quietly when deputies drove up to his home.

He ran from the yard and barricaded himself in the house — forcing investigators to kick in the door, Wilson said.

He's been charged with second-degree kidnapping, sexual assault on a child, harboring a minor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and obstruction a peace officer.

He remains in county jail on $500,000 bail.

Betts is accused of befriending vulnerable girls, including three runaways, then plying them with drugs and alcohol at house parties and sexually abusing them, Wilson said.

"He has a continuing pattern of sexual behavior with under-age girls and those impressionable kids in our communities are all potentially at risk," the investigator said.

While executing a search warrant at Betts' home Dec. 22, investigators found a computer containing sexually explicit photos and video of underage girls, Wilson said. Cocaine and marijuana were also found.

In light of this new evidence, additional charges are being explored by the Elbert County prosecutors, Wilson said.

The five known victims, girls ages 14 to 16 girls, have been reunited with their family, Wilson said.

Investigators are also seeking three Salvadoran men described as "persons of interest" who are believed to still be somewhere in the southeast metro area, Wilson said.

Authorities have a 2007 photo of the men and Betts at his home, posing bare-chested in cowboy hats and jeans and flexing their muscles with half-empty beer bottles in the background.

An investigator photo taken during the search of Bett's home shows a party room with whiskey bottles and a chalkboard board wall scrawled with "Bitches & Hoes," "Playboy" and "Sex, Drugs & Country."

Anyone with information about the case or possible victims is urged to contact Elbert County sheriff's Investigator Mark Wilson at (303)805-6113

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