“Innocent” Pastor Sentenced to 35 Years

“Swallow your pride and come forward to fix your mistake… you will carry the guilt of this your whole life,” were the words of a 62-year-old pastor to his victims. “I’m proclaiming my innocence until the day I die,” he said. It takes a special charlatan to maintain his innocence in the face of his victims and then shame his victims by saying “I forgive you.” However, the church, family, and friends are just as bad for maintaining his innocence and shaming the victims. The pastor prepares for his second trial as he continues his remorseless victim shaming.

According to the Daily Progress,

The victim and his mother sat quietly in the front row of the Rockbridge County courtroom while Clark read from his statement. He said he has lost his home, vehicle, life savings, the church he loved dearly and the fellowship of its 200 members over lies and fabrications.

“I’m proclaiming my innocence to the day I die,” he said.

Clark did not testify during his October trial. A jury believed the testimony of the now 16-year-old who said that soon after he started attending the Pentecostal Outreach Church as a seventh-grader, Clark began to take him out for fast-food after services. After a few weeks, Clark began forcing the boy to touch him inappropriately. The pastor also took him to his home where he sexually assaulted him, the teen said.

His discomfort at trial was evident. Though he testified via closed-circuit television, he seemed confused during cross examination and contradicted some of his statements. A psychologist testified that victims of church-related sexual assaults often are reluctant to talk about what happened and that they feel intense shame because they had viewed their assailant as God’s representative.

What Clark did “causes everyone to question everyone because you do not want to believe a leader we trust is capable of such things,” said Christopher Billias, the chief deputy for the Rockbridge County commonwealth’s attorney. He asked Irvine to impose what at Clark’s age amounts to a life sentence.

“Quite clearly this young man is affected for the rest of his life,” Billias said.

The jury recommended he serve 35 years in prison.

On Monday, Rockbridge County Circuit Judge Michael Irvine said, “the court feels the jury’s verdict was justified by the evidence.” He ordered Clark to serve five years on each of the three indecent assault counts and 10 years on each of the two counts of carnal knowledge count. The sentences will run consecutively. Irvine also imposed fines that total $107,500.

Defense attorney Kelly Cutler said Clark would appeal the conviction. He faces similar allegations regarding two other teens. Billias said that one is too traumatized to pursue the charges. A trial on the other set of charges is scheduled for March 3.

As they did during his trial, some of Clark’s former parishioners filled several rows in the courtroom, and were joined by his 84-year-old mother, sister and niece. The sister, Dorcus Bennett of North Carolina, was the only witness.

She said the trial and conviction has been particularly hard on their mother since Clark was her prime caretaker.

“The only place she’ been is over here to the jailhouse to see him,” she said. “A lot of people believe in his innocence just like I do. There’s been a lot of church support behind him.”

After the hearing, as the courtroom was being cleared, angry words were exchanged as the victim’s mother walked by Clark’s boosters. A deputy intervened.

Outside the courthouse, Clark’s sister and niece, Sandy McElroy, spoke with reporters. They said Clark is a man of God, steady in his faith and would never hurt a child.

They claim the boys are lying and that it didn’t make sense that they would continue to spend time alone with Clark if he were molesting them. They also questioned the motives of one of the jurors and echoed much of what Clark said in his statement.

The former pastor said that maybe someone else molested the boy and that he used him so that he could get help.

“It’s not me who has to lay awake at night,” Clark said, adding that the boy “will be haunted” by his lies.

Courts don’t sling guilty verdicts like bullets in a western flick. In most cases the court will err on the side of innocence. If the jury thinks you are guilty, then you are probably guilty and it is solidified by a 35-year sentence.

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