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October 18, 2012

Area pastor gets probation in child case

WASHINGTON — Daviess Superior Court Judge Dean A. Sobecki on Wednesday accepted a plea agreement in which Jeff Jones of Washington pleaded guilty to two counts of child solicitation while he was pastor of Church on the Way, 700 W. VanTrees St.

Child solicitation is a Class D felony, punishable by six months to three years incarceration and up to a $10,000 fine. According to the plea agreement, Jones will serve two consecutive three-year terms on probation, pay court costs and applicable fees, and spend 180 days on work release. When his work release is completed, he’ll be on home detention for two years.

Other terms of the plea agreement include no contact of any type with the victim or her family, and Jones must return any electronic communication from the victim. He also must obtain sex offender counseling and register as a sex offender.

“Pursuant to the plea agreement, if you successfully complete the terms of your probation, you may petition the court for treatment as a Class A misdemeanor,” Sobecki said as he explained the terms of Jones’ probation and home detention.

The charges against Jones stemmed from an inappropriate relationship with a teenage female who attended his church. Jones admitted to the affair after the girl’s parents learned about and reported it.

According to the probable cause affidavit in the case, Jones took a 14-year-old female “under his wing” about three years ago, calling himself her “spiritual father.” He told the police investigator his relationship with the girl had started with her looking to him for guidance.

The teen told investigators the first time Jones touched her was just prior to her 16th birthday. After she turned 16, he told her God spoke to him in dreams about the two of them being married someday. He also told her about dreams of them being alone together and having sexual intercourse.

At his sentencing hearing, Jones read a statement to the judge, telling him he respects the difficulty of the judge’s job in helping to turn the world back into a godly place. He quoted Romans 13:1-2, which says: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Jones said he takes responsibility for the decision he made that brought him to the judge’s courtroom, that he’s deeply sorry, and that he’ll regret it the rest of his life. In addition, he apologized for the pain he caused the victim and her family, saying he’d pray for their healing. Jones said he expects God to use the situation to show how a wrong decision can cause pain.

“Mr. Jones, I think there may be a lesson to be learned by everyone,” the judge said. “There are consequences to actions not only here, but afterward.”

Emphasizing that Jones’ actions affected many lives, Judge Sobecki pointed out even the name of the case — The State of Indiana vs Jeff K. Jones — indicates it’s not just a crime against one individual, but it’s a crime against the community. Several community members packed the courtroom for the sentencing.

“I believe anyone who reads the Bible closely ... is always concerned with the community as well as the victim,” Sobecki said.

“This crime is an assault against the community. You used your position in a sly and secretive way to take advantage of someone else and I think, quite frankly, that’s always a crime. That’s always a sin.

“The state cannot ignore something like that, should not ignore something like that.”

The judge said almost everyone who passes through his courtroom claims to have religion, whether recently acquired or a lifelong commitment. He said he thinks everyone needs to understand that just because someone cloaks him- or herself in religion, it doesn’t make them religious. He told Jones he has an opportunity to prove his comments to the court had meaning.

Sobecki said the fallout from the situation will not pass quickly and will never pass for the victim. He told the courtroom the defendant, the victim and the community will have to decide to work through it.

The victim did not speak at the hearing, and neither side presented witnesses.

“What seems to be missing here is attention to the victim because, quite frankly, that’s the person the court can help least,” Sobecki said, adding the court cannot take the victim back to a time before she was victimized.

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Murrie said: “No legal action can possibly heal this family and cure the overall feeling of betrayal and deception they suffered. However, after consulting with the family, the state identified certain goals that were important to them and then negotiated a plea agreement that reflected those goals. Nothing can ever undo what was done, but under the circumstances, this was the best resolution for the family.

“The idea that the defendant received any special treatment is wrong. Since the defendant was represented pre-charge, there was an opportunity to obtain a resolution in a matter of months instead of years.

“Resolving this case now allows everyone negatively affected to begin to heal.”

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