Fairfax judge rejects plea deal for man who admitted molesting 2 boys

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 15, 2010; 8:52 PM

A Fairfax County judge rejected a plea agreement Monday for a former Fairfax church pastor who admitted molesting two boys in the 1990s because the agreement would not have 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 the Community Church of God in the Dunn Loring area from 1995 to 2000. Two men contacted Fairfax police in 2008 and made the allegations against Shelton, saying that the assaults occurred when they were 11 and 14.

Shelton's attorneys 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, he told both sides, "I may ultimately reject this agreement."

Then, after reading a sentencing memo Monday from Shelton's attorneys, 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 in court, and one testified Monday.] I'm trying to understand why I would accept this agreement."

Bellows said that Virginia's voluntary sentencing guidelines recommended an incarceration range of seven to 26 months.

Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Katherine E. Stott said she did not want to submit her two victims, each almost 30 years old, to potentially 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 were no corroborating witnesses or forensic evidence. There was no confession; Shelton's plea could not be used against him. The victims made inconsistent statements. Shelton would have witnesses testify positively about him. The events happened about 15 years ago. Juries want forensic evidence, and they don't want any doubt before convicting a pastor of a sex offense.

The agreement would make Shelton a convicted felon, place him on supervised 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.

Defense attorney Kimberly Irving said that Shelton was remorseful and in poor health, having had a quadruple heart bypass and suffering from high blood pressure, and that "any jail time was going to be essentially a death sentence."

Bellows asked Shelton whether 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 said, "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 presentence report, it's my judgment that the conduct requires a term of incarceration."

Shelton then withdrew his guilty plea.

The case will begin 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 before the new judge in court Wednesday to set a trial date or work out another plea agreement.

One of the victims 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.

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