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Thursday, January 11, 2001

Jury convicts ex-pastor of sexual assault

NYT Regional Newspapers

OCALA — He was a Gainesville pastor with two adopted daughters when the shocking secret came to light in February 1999. He was accused of the unthinkable: having sex with his younger daughter — once in his study where he wrote his sermons — and fathering his older daughter’s child.

On Tuesday, nearly two years after the allegations surfaced, and two weeks after he refused to plead guilty in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence, the 62-year-old former pastor was convicted of nine sex-related charges.

Now he faces a maximum of 165 years in prison when he is sentenced.

Defense attorney Charles Holloman of Ocala said the evidence was overwhelming. He said Assistant State Attorney Lori Lockshin’s aggressive prosecution tactics proved too much, especially when jurors heard a gripping telephone conversation taped by the Ocala Police Department.

“Daddy, do you think God will forgive us for having sex?” the girl asked her father, an Ocala resident whose name is not being released to protect the identity of the victims. “When Jesus comes, do you think he will take us with him?”

The former pastor’s response, Holloman said, was the final blow to his case.

“Bring your Bible over on Saturday and we will talk about it,” the former pastor said on the tape.

“That really was the evidence that did us in,” Holloman said. “The jury just rocked back in their chairs when they heard that. He didn’t deny it, but asked her to bring over her Bible and they would talk about it.”

The former pastor could have received a much shorter sentence two weeks ago, when Holloman said his client was given a chance to plead guilty and spend 10 years in prison. But the man swore he was innocent and demanded a trial. Lockshin said the maximum possible sentence is 165 years in prison, although sentencing guidelines call for 16 to 23 years.

“I thought it was in his best interest to have taken the plea agreement,” Holloman said. He said the prosecution also had DNA evidence that showed there was a 99 percent likelihood the pastor was the father of the older daughter’s child.

During the trial, one victim testified how the former pastor forced her to have sex in his Jaguar in the parking lots of a KFC restaurant and a Publix, in her bedroom and even in the study where he wrote his sermons. The girl, now 18, was 11 years old the first time it happened during a five-year span.

The older daughter, now 23, testified how the former pastor fathered her child, who is now 7 years old. Both women gave specific details of each assault, including how they can still remember feeling his breath on their neck and his beard on their face.

Joe Callahan writes for the Star-Banner in Ocala, Fla.