TULSA — A former church janitor accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in the stairwell of an Oklahoma megachurch waived his right to a preliminary hearing Thursday, letting a judge advance the case against him without hearing from the girl.
Chris Denman, 20, is charged with first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and lewd molestation. Prosecutors say he raped the teenage girl in early August at the Victory Christian Center, where he was hired as a janitor after serving as an intern at the church's summer camp. The molestation charge involves a second alleged victim.
Tulsa County Prosecutor Tim Harris said the girl was prepared to testify before Special Judge David Youll but that Denman's waiver made it unnecessary for her to tell her story in public at this time.
"He (Denman) is saying to the court, by a blind plea, that I don't need to see the evidence," Harris said.
Youll ordered Denman to return to court Oct. 22 to enter a plea.
Denman faces life in prison on the rape and sodomy charges, which carry a five-year minimum sentence. Harris said outside court that there have been no plea bargain negotiations between him and public defender Tasha Steward, who is representing Denman.
Denman was arrested Sept. 5 on charges of raping a 13-year-old girl and molesting a 15-year-old girl at Victory Christian Center. Police also lodged charges against five other workers at the 17,000-member church, saying they waited two weeks before reporting the alleged rape. State law requires the prompt reporting of possible child abuse.
Another church worker has been charged and prosecutors say the investigation continues.
"Certainly we're urging other victims to come forward," Harris said.
Standing next to his lawyer, wearing shackles at his ankles and wrists, Denman gave Youll only brief answers Thursday, including a "Yes, sir," when the judge asked whether he was waiving his right to a preliminary hearing voluntarily.
The five workers charged with delaying their report to authorities returned to work after a brief suspension, pastor Bruce Edwards said during services last weekend. Among those charged were the son and daughter-in-law of ministry co-founder and head pastor Sharon Daugherty. Daugherty said she was aware of allegations but believed other workers were going to comply with the reporting requirement.
Daugherty has not been charged; the five workers have pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor and are due in court Oct. 31.
The 13-year-old's mother has sued the church seeking more than $75,000. She claims the church sought "damage control" rather than pursuing the case properly.
Israel Shalom Castillo, 23, is charged with making a lewd proposal to a child and using a computer to commit a sex crime. He has pleaded not guilty.