Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Pastor Sentenced In Plea Deal
BARTOW, Fla. -- A former Lake Wales pastor accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old boy was sentenced to one year of probation Monday after accepting a plea deal.
Gene Francis, 54, was originally charged with unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
But Francis pleaded no contest to misdemeanor battery in exchange for probation. He was ordered to have no contact with the victim.
Francis, formerly a pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in Lake Wales, was accused of sexual abusing the boy during three incidents beginning in December 2001, according to a Lakes Wales police report.
Prosecutors entered into negotiations with Francis after speaking with the victim and his family, said Chip Thullbery, administrative assistant state attorney.
The deal was appropriate "in light of the lack of physical evidence to support the victim's testimony," Thullbery said.
Francis' lawyer, Ron Toward, said his client continues to deny the accusations against him.
Francis accepted the plea deal because he didn't want to risk the possibility of going to prison by taking the case before a jury, Toward said.
"He has always, to this moment, denied the accusations against him," Toward said.
Francis no longer serves as a pastor, Toward said.
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.
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