TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A former janitor at a Tulsa megachurch was sentenced Wednesday to 55 years in prison for sex crimes against three girls in a scandal that has ensnared five other church employees accused of waiting to report a rape.
Tulsa County District Judge Bill Musseman also sentenced former Victory Christian Center employee Chris Denman to five years of probation and $12,000 in fines. Denman, 20, pleaded guilty in October to raping a 13-year-old girl in the church's stairwell, molesting a 15-year-old girl and propositioning a 12-year-old.
Musseman told Denman and the family and friends of the victims that the punishment "must be severe" because of the nature of the crimes against the girls, who were in the courtroom Wednesday.
Denman pleaded guilty to first-degree rape, forcible oral sodomy of a child, lewd molestation, making a lewd proposal to a child and two counts of using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. He did not have a plea agreement with prosecutors and had faced up to life in prison.
Before the sentencing, prosecutors read statements from two of the girls' mothers. The mother of the 13-year-old said in her statement that her daughter had lost her childhood and that her girl's sense of safety had been shattered as a result of the sexual assault.
When the judge offered Denman a chance to make a statement, he apologized and summarized a Bible verse in which Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
"No one's perfect," Denman explained. "I'll admit to everything I did. I want to go to prison."
A second former church employee awaits trial on a charge of making a lewd or indecent proposal to a child. Five employees of the church, including the son and daughter-in-law of Victory head pastor Sharon Daugherty, face misdemeanor charges for allegedly waiting two weeks to report the rape of the 13-year-old girl by Denman.
Denman's public defender, Tasha Steward, told the judge her client took full responsibility for his crimes. She described Denman's early childhood in foster homes where he never "got the care he needed to become a whole person and understand the rights and wrongs of this world."
However, Sarah McAmis, director of the Crimes Against Children Division at the district attorney's office, asked for a tough sentence, telling the court that Denman used the expected safety of a church to meet and solicit his victims.
"He readily admitted he knew the ages of his victims, readily admitted that what he was doing was against the law," McAmis argued.
McAmis also contended that Denman had failed to show any remorse for his crimes.
"This defendant completely fails to recognize the incredible cowardice of his actions," she said. "This is a defendant who used his position to basically harass and stalk these girls all for the purposes of his sexual pleasure."
The girls and their families sobbed and hugged each other as McAmis spoke and as the victim impact letters were read.
Denman, seated in the jury box in shackles and wearing gray-and-white jail clothes, occasionally glanced at the girls as he read his statement, but otherwise didn't look at them. Throughout most of the proceedings, he was stone-faced, staring straight ahead or looking down.
The 13-year-old's mother is suing Victory Christian Center, a worldwide ministry in south Tulsa that has 17,000 members. The lawsuit accuses employees of trying to cover up the abuse by not reporting the August rape to the authorities while it did an in-house investigation. She says the church was more interested in damage control and attempting to make her daughter feel as if she was somehow to blame for the assault.
"Those people were family to her, and they told her she was a liar," the girl's mother said in an interview with The Associated Press. "In hindsight, I sat there and watched my child suffer and had no idea how to help her," she said.
The AP generally does not identify victims of sex crimes and is not identifying the mother to protect her daughter's identity.
Hearings for the five employees accused of not reporting the abuse were rescheduled Wednesday until January.
John and Charica Daugherty, Paul Willemstein, Anna George and Harold "Frank" Sullivan have each pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of failing to report the abuse in a timely manner.
In September, after the five church employees were arrested, the ministry issued a statement accepting blame for the delay and vowing to work with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services to audit its reporting policy.