BENTON, Ark. — A former longtime music minister at a prominent Arkansas Baptist church has pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual indecency with a child.
David Pierce, 56, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. An additional 10-year sentence was suspended in a plea agreement accepted Aug. 27 by Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Philips in Benton, Ark.
Pierce was music minister for 29 years at First Baptist Church in Benton until his arrest April 24. In that capacity he directed the church’s youth choir, where police say he groomed young boys to show him their genitals for his sexual gratification. The interaction took place at the church and in other places where he could get the boys alone. However, according to court documents, none of the alleged activity took place on choir tours.
Pierce was originally charged with 54 counts of the charge, but the plea bargain reduced the number of counts to individuals involved with the prosecution. Pierce confessed in a court affidavit to those acts and similar involvement with “a number of other former members of the choir, dating back for 10 or more years, who are no longer juveniles.”
Prosecuting Attorney Ken Casady told the Benton Courier that he accepted the plea bargain to spare the boys victimized by Pierce the trauma of testifying against him. Casady said all the victims who came forward were consulted and agreed with the decision.
Defense attorney Mark Hampton told CBS affiliate KTHV television in Little Rock, “We just felt it was best for not only him but for the victims in this case to just resolve it in this way.”
Saline County Sheriff Bruce Pennington told the local newspaper that church officials “cooperated fully with the authorities.”
Pierce issued a statement offering “sincere apologies to every person affected by my actions.”
“It was never my intention to hurt anyone,” he said. He also thanked “many special friends who have so eloquently displayed forgiveness by their unconditional friendship, compassion, and acts of kindness during this time.”
Rick Grant, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, released a statement calling it “a sad day for many people.”
“It is hard to see someone you’ve known for years as a friend, mentor, and colleague end up in this kind of circumstance,” Grant said. “I’m also sad for the victims in this ordeal — young men and their families who trusted David as a teacher and leader.”
Christa Brown of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests applauded “all the brave boys and men” who spoke up and provided facts and corroboration to prosecute, convict and imprison Pierce.
She called on the church’s pastor to tell the congregation how long church leaders knew about allegations of abuse and if they did why Pierce was allowed to remain in ministry.
“How tragic that so many were so wounded over such a long period before Pierce was finally stopped,” Brown said. “This speaks to the need for Baptists to create a place where people may safely report clergy abuse with the expectation that their reports will be responsibly assessed and acted on.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)