Alleged molester's plea deal rejected
A Fairfax County judge on Monday rejected a plea agreement for a former Fairfax church pastor who admitted molesting two boys in the 1990s because the agreement did not put the pastor behind bars.
Tommy R. Shelton Jr., 65, pleaded guilty in July to two felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a child under his supervision.
Shelton was the pastor of Community Church of God, in the Dunn Loring area, from 1995 to 2000. Two men came forward to Fairfax police in 2008 and made the allegations against Shelton, saying the assaults occurred when they were 11 and 14 years old.
But Shelton's lawyers and Fairfax prosecutors agreed to a deal: If Shelton pleaded guilty, he would be placed on probation with no jail or prison time. When the deal was presented to Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows, the judge warned both sides, "I may ultimately reject this agreement."
And after reading the presentence reports in the case, Bellows began the hearing Monday by saying that he now had "greater reservations, based principally on the victim impact statements of the two victims."
Defense attorney Kimberly Irving asked if Bellows had read her sentencing brief. Bellows had not received it, so she handed him a copy.
After taking a recess to read it, the judge -- a former federal prosecutor in Alexandria -- said, "there's no expression of remorse. This submission doesn't even acknowledge that he committed the offense... I've got a plea to two very serious charges, that involves no jail time. And on top of it, I've got a defendant that's expressing no remorse, and I've got victims that are willing to participate in the litigation. [Both victims were present, and one testified Monday.] I'm trying to understand why I would accept this agreement."
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Katherine E. Stott said she did not want to submit her two victims, now both close to 30 years old, to grueling trials with the possibility of acquittals.
Listing the factors that led her to agree to the deal, Stott said the events occurred separately, so the cases would be tried separately. There was no forensic evidence or corroborating witnesses. There was no confession; Shelton's plea could not be used against him. The victims each made inconsistent statements, Stott said. Shelton would have witnesses testify positively about him. The events happened roughly 15 years ago, juries want forensic evidence, and they don't want any doubt before convicting a pastor of a sex offense, Stott said.
The agreement would make Shelton a convicted felon, place him on lengthy probation and require him to become a registered sex offender.
"I believe the plea agreement does address the concerns of the victims of outing the defendant as a child molester," Stott said.
Irving said Shelton was remorseful, was in poor health, with a quadruple heart bypass and high blood pressure, and "any jail time was going to be essentially a death sentence. We couldn't do anything that contemplated jail time, and the Commonwealth understood that."
Bellows asked Shelton if he wanted to address the issue of accepting the plea deal. The former pastor stood.
"I am remorseful," Shelton said. "I tried to live a Christian life all my life. I obviously got off track for a while. In the last 15 years, I've done everything in my power to live the way I should. I've kept myself away from young people... Saying I'm sorry doesn't fix it, but from the bottom of my heart, I am remorseful."
Bellows said Stott was "a very aggressive and extremely competent prosecutor. The agreement reflects her best judgment." But, the judge decided, "I conclude that the plea agreement must be rejected by the court... Given the very serious nature of the conduct as proffered to me in the pre-sentence report, it's my judgment that the conduct requires a term of incarceration."
Shelton then withdrew his guilty plea.
The case now begins again at the circuit court level, with the assignment of a new judge by Chief Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Dennis J. Smith. The two sides will meet in court on Wednesday before the new judge to set a trial date or work out another plea agreement.
One of the victims had testified, with tears in his eyes, that "I just want this to be done and out of my life." He said his main concern was stopping Shelton from abusing any more boys. "This is never going to go away from my head," the main said.
The other victim said after the hearing that he was "fine" with Bellows rejecting the plea deal. "Would I rather not have to do it? Absolutely," he said. "But if that's what I have to do, that's what I have to do. We'll continue the fight."
The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sex crimes
J. Michael Reck, a California lawyer representing the two victims, said "the judge's comments are very empowering, because it acknowledges the lifelong impact on the victims' lives." He said Shelton's comment implying that he had not committed any crimes in the intervening 15 years was not credible. "Given the number of victims that he has, that he has publicly acknowledged," Reck said, "I think it's highly unlikely that he stopped."
| November 15, 2010; 12:40 PM ET
Categories: Fairfax, From the Courthouse, Sex Crimes, Tom Jackman, Updates
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