Ex-pastor of Fairfax church pleads guilty to molesting two boys in the 1990s

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The former pastor of a Fairfax County church pleaded guilty Monday to molesting two boys who were under his supervision in the 1990s, and Fairfax prosecutors agreed to a deal in which the man would spend no time in jail.

But Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows said he might not accept the deal, in which case the defendant, Tommy R. Shelton Jr., could withdraw his plea and take the case to another judge.

Shelton, 65, was the pastor of Community Church of God in the Dunn Loring area from 1995 to 2000. Authorities said two men contacted Fairfax police in 2008 and said that Shelton had sexually assaulted them in the 1990s.

Shelton, who had been living in Kentucky, was arrested in March.

Both accusers were in the courtroom for Shelton's pleas to two felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a child under his supervision. Each charge carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Both said afterward that they approved of the plea deal, although it doesn't include jail time, as long as Shelton acknowledges his guilt and is placed on a sex offender registry.

One of the men testified at a hearing in May that Shelton had performed oral sex on him in 1995 or 1996, when the man was 14, and Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Katherine E. Stott confirmed that account Monday. Shelton had been seeing the boy for counseling and piano lessons, Stott said, and had told him that their sexual activities were "the type of relationship a father and son had."

The other man also testified in May. He said that when he was 11, he and Shelton would go for bike rides and that Shelton would direct him into the woods and fondle him. Stott said that on one occasion, Shelton molested the boy in the kitchen of the Community Church of God on Gallows Road.

Bellows, a former federal prosecutor, seemed skeptical of a plea bargain with no jail time. "I'm telling you all right now," the judge said, "I may ultimately reject this agreement."

Shelton has been free on bond. Bellows said that without the plea agreement, he "would have little doubt about incarcerating the defendant pending sentencing." But prosecutors did not ask for Shelton's bond to be revoked, or for any jail sentence, so he allowed Shelton to remain free.

Bellows asked the prosecutor why she had agreed to the plea deal proposed by defense attorneys Kimberly Irving and Thomas Pavlinic. Stott said that she had discussed the proposal with the two complainants, along with the risks and burdens of going to trial, and that they had accepted it.

She said the only evidence would be the two men's testimony about the events of 15 years ago. Shelton had not spoken to police and had no criminal record, she said.

After the hearing, the two men said they would be prepared to testify if the judge rejects the plea deal and Shelton goes to trial.

"It's been a long time coming," said one of the men, 24.

The other man, 29, said: "He's taken something from me I'll never get back. . . . As long as he's admitted guilt and he's a registered sex offender, that he can't do this to others, that's really what I wanted."

Shelton declined to comment after the hearing. Bellows ordered a pre-sentence report and set a sentencing hearing for Sept. 24, at which he will decide whether to accept the plea deal.

If Bellows rejects the deal, Shelton can withdraw his plea or proceed with sentencing, at which the judge could give him up to 10 years in prison.

If Shelton withdraws his plea, the case would be assigned to another judge, and Shelton, his attorneys and Stott could devise another plea agreement, submit the same agreement to the new judge or go to trial.

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