A Colorado preacher has been sentenced to thirteen years in prison after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old congregation member who was also home-schooled at his residence.
The Denver Post reports that District Judge Don Quick announced Tuesday that Robert Duane Wyatt, 51, formerly from the Agape Bible Church in Thornton, would serve 13 years behind bars for the crimes that occurred over the course of the past two years.
The female victim, now 15, reported that Wyatt began inappropriately touching her when she was 12. Last March, when she was 13, he offered to take her on a field trip but instead took her to a hotel where he sexually assaulted her.
"Mr. Wyatt describes this as a stupid decision, but this wasn't a mistake. He saw he could manipulate the victim and her family," Patrick Freeman, senior deputy district attorney said at the sentencing hearing.
"Those who attempted to hide him from justice share blame," he added, calling the case "disgusting."
At the time of the assault, the young girl attended church services at the church and was enrolled in a home school program under the supervision of Wyatt
As an assistant pastor and teacher, Wyatt was in a position of trust, Quick said.
"You preyed on her emotional and physical vulnerabilities. Over and over again you planned how to groom her so that you could commit these acts," he said. "You took advantage not just of her body but her heart, telling her that you loved her."
Wyatt pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child and attempted first-degree assault in July of 2016, and was arrested in September of last year. Videos posted online show that the former pastor has spoken to the congregation on numerous occasions over the past several years.
Denver7 reports that the child's father knew about the sexual assault incidents, but did not immediately report them to police, hoping to resolve the issue within the church.
"I'm still shocked at how certain adults responded to this," Judge Quick said.
As earlier reported, Darrell Ferguson, head of the Agape Bible Church in Thornton, was interviewed by the media after documents and testimonies surfaced saying he also knew about what happened but chose not to report it to the police.
When asked why he did not report the incident to the police, Ferguson said the crime "wasn't known until the arrest."
You're saying you, as church leaders didn't know that it was sexual assault against a child?" the reporter asked him.
"The, uh, the eldership, let's see I'm just now getting on the highway here," Ferguson replied. "The eldership, you're asking when the eldership, when the leadership of the church discovered that it was sexual assault on a child? That happened the day of the arrest. That's when that came out."
Ferguson later addressed the congregation through a letter confessing he released a "misleading" statement. He explained it was not his intention to deceive the reporter but only wanted to communicate that the church elders were not aware of the crime until the assistant pastor was arrested.
"Nevertheless, I do think what I said was wrong," Ferguson said. "I knew she wanted to know when I found out, and I had been advised by our lawyer not to discuss that in the press, so I got flustered and just tried to divert to something I did want to talk about rather than answer her question. This was wrong, and it ended up being very misleading."