A Petersburg, Va., pastor and 14-year city council member was found guilty yesterday of sexually assaulting four girls in his Baptist congregation and sentenced to 161 years in prison.
An Alexandria Circuit Court jury, after deliberating 13 hours over three days, found the Rev. Clyde L. Johnson Sr., 52, guilty of 15 counts of sexual misconduct, including rape, attempted rape and aggravated sexual battery. He was found not guilty of one count of aggravated sexual battery against a fifth girl.
Johnson is being held without bond at the Alexandria jail pending transfer to a Petersburg facility. Attorneys and police said it was unclear when he would be eligible for parole but estimated that it would be no sooner than 20 years.
"I hope this sends a clear message out to anybody who abuses a little kid," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Joseph E. Preston, who prosecuted the case, which included 7 1/2 days of testimony.
One of Johnson's defense attorneys, Sa'ad El-Amin, said the judge had erred in not allowing certain witnesses. "We were hampered and hobbled in this case," he said, adding that an appeal will be filed.
Johnson, a pastor at two Baptist churches, was accused of having sexual relations in his church office and his car with girls ages 9 to 16. The prosecution said the incidents occurred from 1974 to 1986.
Johnson was indicted originally on 44 counts.
The five girls testified and sat in the front row with their mothers during the closing arguments.
Johnson did not testify.
The trial was moved to Alexandria because of intense publicity in Petersburg, a depressed town of 41,000 just south of Richmond. The first trial ended in a mistrial.
The accusations against the pastor have divided Petersburg's black, churchgoing community and have shaken its entrenched black political establishment, said several persons close to the case.
The Virginia Supreme Court asked retired Roanoke Circuit Court Judge Ernest W. Ballou to hear the case after judges in Petersburg excused themselves.
During the trial, the courtroom was filled with Johnson's relatives and church supporters. Ministers from several Baptist and Methodist churches were by his side during the long deliberations. He was expressionless when the verdicts were read.
Johnson, his wife and his daughter declined to comment on the outcome. Most of his supporters, visibly upset, also declined to comment.
Charles Goode, a deacon at Johnson's 2,000-member First Baptist Church, said the trial had ruffled the congregation. "Things will heal, but it will take time," he said.
The five girls were members of First Baptist, the city's largest Baptist congregation. Johnson also is a pastor at Loving Union Baptist Church just outside the city.
According to the girls' testimony, Johnson had sex with them in his church office after choir rehearsal and tutorial sessions, and sometimes at their homes.
"He desecrated his own church," said Preston during closing arguments Wednesday. The girls "were lured, just like you put a worm on a hook to catch a fish . . . . The defendant used his position of trust to get these girls," he said.
Preston had argued that Johnson used money and gifts to buy the silence of some of the girls' families.
"He used to take care of their families, give them food . . . heat their homes and they would throw him a sacrificial virgin," said a police source.
Defense attorney El-Amin tried to show that the girls concocted their accusations from fantasies that stemmed from their lack of, and need for, father figures at home.
He described the girls as groupies of Johnson.
El-Amin said their testimony lacked supporting evidence and was inconsistent.
"A man who is a pastor of two churches and a council member," he said, this man "is having sex with a 12-year-old in her home with seven people and an opened door? Does that sound credible to you?"