Former pastor sentenced after Alford plea on molestation allegations

February 24, 2012

The 30-year-old glared down from the witness stand at the former pastor accused of molesting him as a boy and demanded one thing: “I just want you to say you’re sorry — that’s it.”

The man he addressed, Tommy R. Shelton Jr., sat less than 10 feet away in a Fairfax County courtroom. Shelton, 66, stared past him in stony silence.

“You can pretend you didn’t do this, but you know you did,” said the man in the witness stand Friday. “Look at me.” And then, finally, their gazes met.

Soon after, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Brett A. Kassabian sentenced Shelton to six years in prison on charges stemming from allegations of molestation from the mid-’90s, when Shelton was leader of the Community Church of God in Dunn Loring.

At the time, Shelton was giving the man, then a high school freshman, piano lessons and counseling him after the deaths of his parents a number of years earlier. The man testified in May 2010 that Shelton kissed him, fondled him and performed oral sex on him. He said two assaults occurred in the church.

“He sought me out and told me he could be a counselor, a father figure,” the man testified Friday, choking back tears. “The things that were done just didn’t feel right.”

The Washington Post generally does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse.

The man was one of two to accuse Shelton of molestation in 2008.

Under a deal reached with Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Katherine E. Stott, Shelton agreed to enter an Alford plea on four charges in the 30-year-old’s case. Charges based on allegations brought by the second man were dropped.

In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but recognizes that prosecutors have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.

Shelton nevertheless declared his innocence Friday before Kassabian sentenced him. “I’m sorry for any suffering he has received,” he said. “However, I still stick with my plea of not guilty.”

Defense attorneys argued Shelton should serve no time in jail because he is in poor health, had no prior criminal record and had been a loving husband and father for 40 years. Kassabian rejected that.

“The betrayal of your position of authority occurred on many levels,” Kassabian told Shelton.

The case had many twists and turns. In July 2010, Shelton reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty to two felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a child under his supervision. A judge later rejected that deal because it did not put the pastor behind bars.

Stott said she agreed to the deal because the case was difficult: There was no forensic evidence or other witnesses, and Shelton was respected.

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