Family of Tulsa megachurch leader plead no contest

AP News
Posted: Mar 22, 2013 5:14 PM

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Two employees of a Tulsa megachurch received five-year deferred sentences and no jail time Friday after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of waiting two weeks to report the August rape of a 13-year-old girl on ministry property.

Youth pastors John and Charica Daugherty — the son and daughter-in-law of Victory Christian Center head pastor Sharon Daugherty — had denied wrongdoing since their arrests in September for allegedly failing to promptly report child abuse. They rejected a plea deal last month and were slated to go to a jury trial in May.

Special Judge Bill Hiddle said Friday that the evidence against the Daughertys wasn't as compelling as the case against three of their Victory co-workers — two of whom were sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail on the same misdemeanor charges. But he expressed concern that leaders in the 17,000-member worldwide ministry weren't as involved as they should have been in making certain that suspicions about abuse were reported promptly.

"I want the hammer over your heads, Mr. and Mrs. Daugherty, for a longer period of time," Hiddle told the couple. "I want to make sure things are done right."

He also ordered the Daughertys to visit at least 20 organizations that work with children, such as churches or daycares, to talk with employees about promptly reporting abuse.

"We respect the judge's sentence and we look forward to helping other churches and organizations learn how to best protect their children and promptly report child abuse," the Daughertys said in a statement Friday afternoon. "We hope these actions will help in the healing process of all who were affected."

The rape victim's mother looked distraught as Hiddle sentenced the Daughertys. She had filed a civil lawsuit against the 600-employee ministry in September, accusing it of worrying more about damage control than the well-being of her daughter, who was attacked in a church stairwell.

The mother left without speaking to reporters.

Prosecutors had lobbied Hiddle to impose a tougher sentence, arguing that the Daughertys lacked remorse and for months refused to accept responsibility for any wrongdoing.

"They did nothing, and they let down their church and the entire community," said Sarah McAmis, director of the Crimes Against Children Division in the district attorney's office. "They cannot be allowed to escape responsibility."

After the sentencing, Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said he hoped the case would send a message that "we can't ever have something like this happen in Tulsa County."

Three of the Daughertys' co-workers pleaded no contest Monday to the same charges of failing to report child abuse. Paul Willemstein and Anna George were sentenced to 30 days in jail, and Harold "Frank" Sullivan received a one-year suspended sentence. All three continue to work for the ministry.

Ex-church janitor Chris Denman, 20, was sentenced in December to 55 years in prison for the stairwell rape. Another ex-janitor at the church, 23-year-old Israel Castillo, faces an August jury trial on charges he sent lewd Facebook messages to a 14-year-old girl. He has pleaded not guilty.