Thursday, November 24, 2005


Pastor gets probation after admitting sexual relationship with 14-year-old relative

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Despite admitting to having a five-month sexual relationship with a 14-year-old family member, a former lay pastor at a Knoxville church is not going to spend a lot of time in jail.

Court papers show Jerry David Hembree, 48, used force and coercion to have sex with the young girl, but a circuit court judge sentenced him to just five years probation and five months in jail.

Hembree, who lives at 685 Bethany Court, pleaded guilty to having sex with the family member. He is now a registered sex offender.

At a court hearing Tuesday, Hembree admitted to a five month sexual relationship with the girl in his Maryville home.

The victim said in a court statement, "Jerry did this to me. It really broke my trust and made it harder to trust people. It also caused a lot of family problems, especially with my mother. It was real confusing."

She has since moved away from the area.

It's the details of his probation that concern officers who have to keep track of Hembree.

In the sentencing phase, the judge decided Hembree is allowed to use the Internet, but his hard drive may be monitored.

The judge also ruled it's okay for him to travel out of state while on probation because his job requires him to do so.

Every time Hembree leaves the state of Tennessee he has to report his travel to his probation officer.

After that, the officer has to send out an alert to the state he is traveling to.

6 News talked to a probation officer about the judge's decision. The officer told us his department expressed concerns about putting Hembree on probation.

But in light of the judge's ruling, the officer says the department will do its best to supervise Hembree.

After the guilty plea, Hembree's wife took the stand, asking the judge for a light sentence.

She said, "I feel like being on the (sexual offender) registry is sufficient. I don't think he is a risk to the general public. He doesn't spend time with other people's children."

In addition to her testimony, Hembree's attorneys also provided letters of support from members of his church, where he served as a lay pastor.

The letters say Hembree admitted his sins and asked for forgiveness.

6 News tried to contact members of Hembree's church for a comment, but no one was available.

See also, the never-ending chronicle of church-related crime.

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