An Arlington County jury yesterday acquitted a former youth minister of charges that he raped a teenage choirboy but found him guilty of taking indecent liberties with the youth, who was 16 at the time.
Antawn McCullum, 29, who has remained jailed since his November arrest on the felony charges, showed little emotion as the verdicts were read. One woman, a member of Macedonia Baptist Church in Arlington, where McCullum once was choir director and youth minister, ran from the courtroom weeping, while about two dozen other church members sat in silence.
The penalty phase of the trial begins today. McCullum faces up to five years in prison for the conviction, said Nader Hasan, McCullum's attorney. Hasan declined to comment on the verdicts, saying he would first need to consult with his client. He did not respond to messages left on his phone last evening.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Molly Newton filed out of the courtroom with the victim, who is now 18, and his family without commenting on the verdicts. Approached outside the courthouse a few minutes later, the victim and his family also declined to speak.
The two-day trial hinged on the sworn testimony of the victim about sexual encounters that took place about two years ago. The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sex crimes.
Seated on the witness stand before a crowded courtroom on the 10th floor of the Arlington County Courthouse, the victim described in a voice that was both loud and halting several occasions in which he and McCullum had sex.
The first time occurred in February 2003, inside McCullum's Arlington apartment, the victim said, a short time after the pair arrived at the apartment after church services.
"I was sitting on the sofa and he was in his room. I asked him why he wasn't out there with me and he said, 'If I were in the same room, I don't know if could control myself,' " testified the victim, who is now a high school senior.
Moments later, he testified, he joined McCullum in his bedroom and allowed the man to massage him. They later had sex, he said.
Dressed in a dark suit, the slender teenager said yesterday that at the time of the sexual abuse, he was unsure of his sexual orientation. He said that his father is gay so he thought he also might be gay, the victim testified.
McCullum was a calming presence amid family turmoil, the victim testified.
McCullum "told me I was somebody he could talk to, that I reminded him of his brother," the victim testified. "He would say I was special and, when I was down, he made me feel good."
He said he was forced to have sex with McCullum but, even after that, he "still enjoyed the other aspects of the relationship," he testified.
McCullum sat stoically throughout the trial. In a taped conversation between McCullum and the victim, made after police began their investigation, the man acknowledged that he once had a "physical attraction" to the victim but said the attraction "has nothing to do with the way I feel about you." In her closing arguments, Newton said that statement was an acknowledgment that something sexual had occurred between the pair.
The victim "was a confused kid, and the defendant used that to his advantage," she said.
But Hasan, McCullum's attorney, said the victim's confusion was motivation to lie about the sexual encounters.
"This is a case about an abused child who has gone through a lot," Hasan told jurors minutes before they filed into the deliberation room. "People like my client involve themselves with youths and are going to be scared because of this case if you show them that they can go to jail and be convicted on this kind of evidence."
Hasan said his client also faces an indecent liberties charge against the same youth in Fairfax County, where the teenager lived at the time. A trial date has not been set in that case.