Saturday, November 12, 2005
Minister could face 10-year sentence in molestation case
St. Louis - A Baptist minister faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced next month for fondling a 13-year-old girl last year at a house in north St. Louis County.
A jury in St. Louis County Circuit Court recommended earlier this month that Judge Richard C. Bresnahan sentence the Rev. Curtis Thomas to five years in prison on each of two counts of child molestation.
Bresnahan set sentencing for Dec. 19. The judge can run the sentences consecutively or concurrently.
On Nov. 3, the jury found Thomas guilty of fondling the victim last year when the girl was 13 but acquitted Thomas of statutory rape. On that charge, the victim alleged Thomas had sexually assaulted her in 1997 or 1998.
Thomas, 51, of north St. Louis County, has been a minister for 22 years and served at the Original West End Mount Carmel Baptist Church in St. Louis. He also is a retired factory worker.
The victim, her grandmother and a doctor at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital testified against Thomas, who took the stand in his defense and denied any impropriety.
In the punishment phase, prosecutor Kimberly Wells put the victim's mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on the stand. They talked about the changes in the teen since the allegations surfaced a year ago.
Her grandmother said the girl used to be outgoing. Now she stays in her room and seldom calls her friends. Once active in choir and Bible studies, the girl no longer wants to go to church, the grandmother testified.
The great-grandmother said: "In our church, people took sides. It has been a hurting thing," and the family has left the church.
Defense attorney Mike Avioli said he was surprised by the verdict because it meant the jury had believed the teen about one crime but rejected her testimony about the other.
Avioli called Thomas' wife and daughter during the punishment phase, along with another minister. They testified that Thomas was a loving husband and father to his three children, and a good, caring man.
"He had a calling from God," his wife told the jury. "He believed in helping people, with a kind heart."
See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.
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