Friday, November 11, 2005
Baptist preacher pleads to misdemeanor stalking
Baton Rouge, LA - A Baptist pastor accepted a deal allowing him to plead guilty to a misdemeanor stalking charge instead of facing trial on felony counts alleging he had sex with an underage girl.
Danny "Warren" Johnson, 37, of Baton Rouge accepted the "best interest" deal Wednesday morning. State District Judge Todd Hernandez sentenced Johnson to two years of supervised probation.
A best-interest plea is the same as a guilty plea, but it means a defendant does not agree with the prosecution's version of events.
The judge also ordered that Johnson have no contact with the girl or her family, get psychiatric treatment and pay up to $100 a week to help cover the girl's counseling.
Prosecutor Mark Dumaine said the plea deal will eliminate the need for the girl, now 22, to testify at a trial where she likely would have been subjected to a vigorous cross-examination.
"We made the decision after consultation with the victim and weighing her decision about facing the ugliness of trial," Dumaine.
Defense attorney Hillar Moore said after court that this was a "highly contested case from the very beginning" and he was prepared to put forth a "substantial defense" had the case gone to trial.
"(Johnson) has denied any kind of criminal activity with the girl from the very beginning," Moore said.
At the time of his arrest in 2002, Johnson was serving as a pastor with Gospel Light Baptist Church. Moore said Johnson is no longer associated with that church.
Accepting the misdemeanor plea was the best way for Johnson and his family to "get this over with," Moore said.
Authorities maintain that Johnson, 37, had sex with the girl on several occasions during the late 1990s while she was living at his home.
The alleged sexual encounters occurred in 1997, 1998 and 1999, when the girl was 14, 15 and 16 years old, a police affidavit says.
The girl's grandmother, Mary Ann Smith, said she is proud of her granddaughter for having the courage to bring forth the allegations instead of keeping them hidden.
Others facing similar problems should "yell, scream from the rooftops" to make sure they are heard, Smith said.
"This epidemic has got to stop," she said.
Smith also said she was not disappointed that a plea deal was done in this case.
"The main part is the 'guilty' word," she said.
"The second most important part (of the deal) is the psychiatric treatment. We need to let the psychiatrist sort this out."
An East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury last year indicted Johnson on one count each of molestation of a juvenile, sexual battery and aggravated crime against nature.
Molestation of a juvenile carries a sentence of five to 15 years, aggravated crime against nature has a penalty of three to 15 years and sexual battery has a sentence of up to 10 years.
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.
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