, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

February 14, 2013

2 Tulsa church workers refuse plea deal

— TULSA (AP) — The son and daughter-in-law of the senior pastor at a south Tulsa megachurch told a judge Wednesday they want a jury trial on charges they waited two weeks to report the August rape of a 13-year-old girl on church property and won't take a plea deal.

Three other employees of the 17,000-member Victory Christian Center, who face the same misdemeanor charge of not promptly reporting the abuse, waived their rights to a jury trial at a hearing Wednesday.

Attorneys for employees Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold "Frank" Sullivan told the court their clients would likely enter guilty pleas with no guarantee of a sentence recommendation from prosecutors at a March 18 hearing. All three could be sentenced then as well.

Prosecutors said they plan to present testimony then, including statements from the girl's relatives, to show how severe the crimes were.

"It's our opportunity to present aggravating evidence and show why they should be held accountable," prosecutor Sarah McAmis said.

Attorneys for John and Charica Daugherty, the son and daughter-in-law of Victory Christian Center head pastor Sharon Daugherty, said they want a chance to prove their clients did nothing wrong.

"John and Charica Daugherty are proceeding to trial for one very simple reason: they are innocent," said Jason Robertson, who has long been critical of how the state has handled the case.

At one point, Robertson accused prosecutors of relying more on shock value than on facts. Prosecutors responded that the facts of the case speak for themselves, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient.

The Daughertys are due back in court in May for a pre-trial hearing where a jury trial will be scheduled.

All five employees charged face up to one year in prison if convicted.

Two former church employees were charged following an investigation into sexual abuse at the church. Chris Denman, 20, was sentenced last year to 55 years in prison for raping the 13-year-old and other sex crimes.

A second ex-employee, Israel Castillo, 23, faces an August jury trial on a felony count of making a lewd proposal to a 14-year-old. Castillo's been free on bail and has denied any wrongdoing.

The 13-year-old's mother has sued the ministry, accusing employees of trying to cover up the abuse by not reporting the rape to the authorities while it did an in-house investigation.

She says the church was more interested in damage control and attempting to make her daughter feel as if she was somehow to blame for the assault.


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